The picture on the cover of The Daily Monitor on July 11, was attractive. The headline stated, Teenage pregnancy: A big threat to Uganda’s girl child and the photo was that of a pregnant woman. Many people liked it, at least this is what I gathered from chit chat in various places, the morning the paper came out. It certainly was a beautiful picture.
The way the woman had her hands on her bump, over which a light pink dress run, conveyed a mother’s love (I do remember thinking though, that she needed to trim her nails soon, otherwise her attendant would be left with scars, from being squeezed during birth). The picture and the graphics surrounding it sat so pretty and it was simply a nice cover page.
I was disturbed though, because that is where the commentary seemed to stop. Not many people were debating and talking about the worrying statistics of teenage pregnancy in this country, the plight Agatha Ayebazibwe, was highlighting in the story. When I read what the nurse in Kasambya Health Centre III told the reporter, I shook my head in disbelief. Just one health centre in May, helped 36 teenage girls deliver. And in June, 171 teens had registered to have antenatal checks.
Now I know that statistics are sometimes baffling and annoying to decipher especially when they are percentages and ratios you are looking at. When you consider though, that 80 per cent of the unwanted pregnancies in the country are of those of teenage girls, it has to make you shudder. Why are so many children getting pregnant? There are a million answers to this question: Absent parents or those too afraid to talk to their children about sex; poverty, forcing the girls to go with whoever can provide a meal and a roof over their heads; ignorance, which might sound like a lousy excuse but you would be surprised that girls are made to believe sleeping once with a boy will not get you pregnant; and many other issues.
A few young men I was talking with did not seem to think it was that big a deal – the statistics that is. They are not alone. Many people think the same, including women. In a country where most cultures are patriarchal, whatever happens to the woman is usually considered as part of life. But this should not be the thinking at all. We cannot continue to sit back and watch as children get pregnant.
The consequences are dire – maternal deaths, life-long illnesses, malnourished children, single parents and a vicious cycle. Many people have called on the government to do something about it. And they should. But like David Mpanga, one of our columnists wrote, some of these things should start at a personal level. Instead of reading the paper, sighing over the stories and going about our business, we should start to make a difference in these girls’ lives.
For starters, we should not employ teenage house-girls (or any other for that matter) below the age of 18, if we do not plan to pay them well and set them up for a bright future. We should find it within ourselves to help the distant cousin or niece by encouraging her and sending Shs50,000 to keep her in school. These and many more acts can go a long way in giving these young girls, what we have, that they don’t – an opportunity to study, an encouraging environment and a bright future. As we wait for government to do their part, let us also do ours.