Somewhere in a rural area in Kabale District, 15 year old Jane (not real name) is walking from the shop on a Saturday evening. Her mother has sent her to buy some scholastic materials to return to school with the next day, when she encounters a group of men, in her opinion, in their early thirties. “How are you young lady? Ever since you went to Kampala you no longer want to talk to us,” says one who then starts running after her.
Despite her alarm, no one comes to her rescue, she is defiled. When she goes home and narrates her ordeal to the mother, who warns her against sharing the encounter with her father (he is capable of stopping her from continuing her education, or worse marry her off to the predator). She does not seek medical attention either, because of living in a small town where gossip spreads like a wildfire and her fear of being stigmatized. Unfortunately, when later taken to the hospital she is confirmed to be pregnant. As expected, her school expels her and she has to look for another school. She is determined to sit her Uganda Certificate in Education (UCE) later that year. The only school in Uganda where pregnant students are admitted is in Pader District, and yet she hails from Kabale. Two contrasting environments for a pregnant candidate, I must say.
Throughout her education, her father, who shows up for the first time when she was in Primary 3, never puts a single penny to support her or even putting food on the table at home to support the mother to this date. Despite this, they know he is a “monster” capable of killing the baby born just a week to her final examination. “I love my baby, and I cannot stand to see him lay a hand on him” she says with a cracking voice and teary eyes.
Such is the plight of the girl child in many parts of Uganda, of whom, 1 in 4 aged 15-19 is reportedly already a mother or pregnant. There are several of them who opt to abort such babies as a result of peer pressure or fear of societal opinions. Very few can be said to have had the courage Jane had. It’s long overdue and we must join hands for a concerted effort to see that we provide a conducive environment for the girl child to reach their highest potential without such interruptions. Such efforts are existent, however, to what extent has this led to an improved life for the girl child.
Resolution 66/170 of the United Nations General Assembly held on the 19th day of December 2011 declared October 11th as the International Day of the Girl Child, to recognise girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world. This commemoration focuses attention on the need to address the challenges girls face and to promote girls empowerment and fulfilment of their human rights. Some of these rights include safe, educated, and healthy rights through to maturity into women.
As a result of the declaration, Uganda joined the rest of the world on the 11th of October 2017 to commemorate this auspicious day at different celebration points around the country. Reach a Hand Uganda organised one under the theme “Girls’ progress = Goals’ Progress: celebrating vision 2040 for the Ugandan girl.” The theme was geared towards increasing awareness on the issues faced by the girls around the world.
Important to note is that one of the biggest challenges facing the girl child in Uganda is access to reproductive health information and services which is by itself a right. Imagine Jane’s mother was in the know of what immediate actions to take, would Jane be faced with this predicament?
In 2016, the Ministry of Gender Labour and Social development issued a press release on the resolution passed by Parliament on the 17th of August 2016, urging the government to ban comprehensive sexuality education in Uganda, citing the lack of policy or guidelines and framework on the same, and the likely dangers of having the training infiltrated with the dangerous vices that are inconsistent with the national values, norms and morality. This press release was to emphasise that the ban was not only applicable in formal learning centres, but in all spheres of the community.
The explanations espoused by the Minister of Gender Labour Social Development, Hon Jannat B. Mukwaya indicated that comprehensive sexuality education is deeply inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution of Uganda as they may lead consumers to act in such manners that do not promote and preserve those cultural values and practices which enhance the dignity and well-being of Ugandans.
What the pronouncement made above does not put into consideration is the plight of people like Jane who are completely helpless. Their wellbeing and dignity are completely trampled upon and obliterated. The lack of sustainable measures to help redeem them recover are hampered by the lack of government policy towards the provision of Sexuality education.
Sexuality education refers to knowledge assessed for learning on the different needs in reproductive health. The UN on the other hand refers to Sexuality Education as “…an approach that recognizes and promotes: human rights; knowledge, values and skills necessary for HIV prevention; and, gender equality… that is scientifically accurate, culturally and age-appropriate, gender-sensitive and life skills-based that can provide young people with the knowledge, skills and efficacy to make informed decisions about their sexuality and lifestyle” (UN Fact Sheet, Undated)
It is no doubt that there are several actors using sexuality education to advocate for practices that have either been outlawed or deemed to be against the norms and cultural values of Ugandans. However, Ugandan leaders cannot choose to bury their heads in the sand as though the young people are not sexually active and are prone to the dangers that come with ignorance regarding safe sexual behaviour.
There are several avenues such as the internet through which young people are getting such information and more, without regulation, and if the Ministries responsible for the said regulation of the said information delay to come up with the relevant policies to regulate the dissemination of Sexuality Education, the situation may be irredeemable for many.
It is also pertinent that the government agencies responsible for the formulation of the policy come up with a single document. We cannot have different ministries coming up with their own versions of the policy regulating the same thing this will rather cause irregularities in the information being disseminated. In Uganda, we have adolescents who are both in school and out of school misinformation or ignorance is not a luxury we can afford as a country. The different ministries, i.e. Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, and Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development ought to expedite the development of a comprehensive document thereto to enable us protect the girl child.