Ex­pe­dite the for­mu­la­tion of a reg­u­la­tory frame­work on re­pro­duc­tive health mat­ter to save the young pop­u­la­tion

By: Isaac Okello

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.