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How teenage pregnancies and unsafe abortions are robbing young girls of their future

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By Our Reporter

Like every teenage, Lucy was once full of dreams. She dreamt of one day being a big music star. But that’s a dream that continues to slip farther and farther away from her reach. This after she got impregnated in 2019. Things started going downhill from there. She was rejected by her family and sent away from home to go live with her child’s father. Fast forward, she is now a teenage mother of three children.

Lucy is only 15.

Lucy’s story is not an isolated incident. Sarah is another teenager living with her strict relatives in remote Kasese district. Being from a humble background, she sometimes has to do without the necessities. This is how she found herself in a sticky situation. When her red days started, and without money to buy pads, she turned to her boyfriend for assistance. Because the boyfriend came to her rescue, she felt she needed to pay him back. She could only do it in kind. They did not use protection, and she ended up pregnant.

She could not tell her relatives about the pregnancy, and neither could she access safe abortion services. She was stuck between a rock and a hard place. At the end of it all, her fear of being cast away from the family outweighed her risk of unsafe abortion. She ended up using local herb concoctions to terminate the pregnancy. Luckily, she survived to tell her story.

But not all girls are as lucky as Sarah.

According to Simon Masereka, a Medical Clinical Officer at a Health Centre III, most times the young girls who carry out unsafe abortions end up with many complications such as severe bleeding, which could lead to death.

He further notes that he cannot prevent the ordeal, even if he wanted, because of restrictive abortion laws in Uganda.

“The law restricts us. Even if these young girls came to the hospital, we cannot carry out an abortion. So, they end up doing it their own way using local herbs and other concoctions.” Simon Masereka says.

The Challenges

Teenage pregnancy remains a stubborn public health and social problem. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 12 million girls aged 15–19 years and at least 777,000 girls under 15 years give birth each year in developing regions.

Currently, the average prevalence of teenage pregnancy in Uganda is as high as 25%, with 27% in rural areas and 19% in urban areas. This means more young people are becoming sexually active before marriage and yet lack adequate knowledge on sexual and reproductive health.

Studies have further shown that teenage girls aged 15–19 years are twice more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth compared to women in their twenties, whereas those under the age of 15 years are five times more likely to die.

The teenage pregnancy problem is further exacerbated by poverty, leading to high levels of unsafe abortions, maternal injuries and mortality rates.

“Some girls are not provided with sanitary pads at home. Some of these get shy to come and share with us the senior women. They instead turn to the boys to provide the sanitary pads who in turn ask for sexual favors. As result they end up with unwanted pregnancies.” Says Ms. Miriam Dambya, a primary school senior woman.

What needs to done

According to Rev. Mukonzo Yogenza, a religious leader in Western Uganda, we need to stop burying our heads in the sand and acknowledge that young people are engaged in sexual activities and thus equip them with the knowledge they need.

“I can say that we have somehow, somewhere neglected the youth. I advise my fellow religious leaders to integrate messages on sex education in their sermons.” Mukonzo Yogenza noted.

Ms. Miriam Dambya also added that teachers need to be trained on how to navigate the talk on sexuality education with teenagers.

“Even us as teachers we need trainings so we can know how to counsel and guide these girls.” Ms. Miriam Dambya added.

With a new lockdown reinstated, cases of unwanted pregnancies are expected to increase. To counter this, Reach A Hand Uganda is intensifying their reach out programs that are aimed at empowering young people with knowledge on use of contraceptives as well sensitizing them on the dangers of teenage pregnancies.

Benson Muhindo, the Head of Programs at Reach A Hand Uganda says that they are increasing their number of peer educators so that they are able to reach out to more young people during the lockdown.

“We want to make sure that information about teenage pregnancies continues to spread over to more young people during the lockdown so we can have more young people making the right decisions,” Muhindo said.

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