Nwoya District: A sorry case of child marriages and teenage pregnancies
Child marriage is a major violation of girl’s human rights as it denies young girls the right to education, health, equality and a life free from violence and exploitation. In Uganda, at least one in 10 girls are married by the age of 15, while 40 percent are already married by the time they turn 18. One in four teenage girls over 15 have already given birth or are pregnant. In Northern Uganda, nearly half the girls are married before they turn 18. Narrowing to Nwoya district, statistics are more shocking as officials report a staggering 68 percent of girls married before they become adults according to the Save the Children’s article “Together We Can End Child Marriage”. Statistics from Nwoya District probation and social welfare office indicate that 112 defilement cases have been reported since January 2016. The reports further put child marriage at 70 percent more than the national statistic of 40 percent.
Dire consequences of early childbearing are felt by society as well as the families which are directly affected. In Nwoya district, an average of 29 girls give birth every month in Anaka hospital in reference to an article from Save the Children. Early parenthood endangers the health of both the mother and baby not to mention that over 50 percent of the young girls are prone to suffer from fistula and also is detrimental to physical health in later life especially in physiological terms. Early childbearing is thus associated with poor maternal and child health outcomes such as preterm birth and low birth weight, which in turn can aggravate other outcomes like infant, child and maternal mortality.
Traditional and social norms with views that girls are sources of wealth, replacements for dead married sisters and are supposed to marry while still virgins in order to fetch more dowry; factors such as women’s disadvantaged status; poverty which makes parents exploit their young daughters for dowry; and biases against girls’ education are some of the reasons for early/child marriage. From the parents’ perspective, early marriage offers protection against premarital pregnancy and provides lifelong security for their daughters.
According to the World Bank Uganda Economic Update 10th Edition, ending child marriage, preventing early childbearing and improving educational attainment for girls is not only the right thing to do, but it is also a smart economic investment. It could boost economic development by US dollars 2.4 billion a year and bring higher living standards to all citizens. The cost of not taking action on ending child marriages now is high and will run into billions of dollars a year by 2030.
Phasing out traditional values and beliefs that impinge on the rights of the girl child, developing laws that keep girls in school including when pregnant, sensitization and spreading awareness to people mainly in rural areas on the dangers of child marriage and childbirth, setting up more projects and schools that allow pregnant girls and young mothers to access education outside the state system, for example, Nwoya Girls Academy, are ideas on how we can eradicate and put an end to the human rights injustice of child marriage and childbearing in Nwoya district and the country at large.