Brianna was a young, brilliant 16-year-old Ugandan woman who was always competing for the top academic position. She was admired by many students and teachers. She recently joined the drama club where she met Arnold, a charming young man whom many girls had an eye on. Arnold and Brianna quickly became friends and, soon after, fell in love.
A few months later, after missing her period, Brianna discovered that she was pregnant. On finding out, she told Arnold, but he denied being responsible for the pregnancy, claiming he was not yet willing to be a father. She was advised by a friend to abort in fear of being disgraced by her family and community.
All her life, she had strived to be the best daughter her parents could ever have, following all the guidelines her parents set for her. She had always feared one main thing in life – pregnancy! Her entire life, she had heard strong warnings from her dad about how sex was evil. For fear of discovering her “condition” and getting punished by her parents, Brianna escaped from school to live with her aunt. She hid the pregnancy in hopes to abort it and save herself the shame before her family ever found out.
Joseph Ssennyange, a peer educator at Reach A Handa, Uganda (RAHU), a non-profit youth-led organization that aims to address key issues that leave Ugandan youth vulnerable to health outcomes like HIV and STIs, met Brianna when mentoring youth on the importance of sexual and reproductive health and rights at her school in Uganda. As a RAHU peer educator, Joseph has been trained to empower young people with essential life skills and accurate information on sexual and reproductive health issues to enable them to live responsible and productive lives.
The Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) states that 1 in 4 girls between 15-19 years of age in Uganda gets pregnant.
Like Brianna, many girls face this cruel reality of getting pregnant at an early age. One wonders why there is a big rise in the number of teenage pregnancies in this generation. Society is making it impossible for parents and teachers to discuss issues concerning sexuality with children in a healthy and non-judgmental environment. Many parents believe that discussing sexuality with children only motivates them to engage in early sex, but this is hardly the case because teenagers need guidance, not protection, from things they already know.
When a girl gets pregnant, the common communal response is to cast the first stone at her as the immoral girl who has brought shame on herself and her family. Worse still if she is a student in school, the administrators make it a point to have her expelled, hardly holding the boy responsible.
The Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) states that 1 in 4 girls between 15-19 years of age in Uganda gets pregnant. These pregnant teenage girls face enormous challenges including immediate discrimination from teachers, fellow students and even close friends in fear of being judged as ill mannered. The school discrimination and shame from their family leads to most pregnant teenage girls dropping out of school.
The boys usually abandon the impregnated girls and they are left to choose between keeping the child and risk abandonment or carry out an abortion. Abortions are illegal in the country so only unscrupulous health workers may be willing to carry them out. Unfortunately, most abortions are unsafe and may lead to the death of the expecting teens. Those who choose not to abort will possibly be married off to the fathers of the children they carry, both of them still children.
Stopping teenage pregnancy should be everybody’s responsibility because it affects everyone. Parents and teachers have a key role to play in ensuring children receive accurate information on sexual and reproductive health to prevent cases of unprotected sex. Proper education and awareness will reduce the number of teenage pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.
Schools and health facilities have an obligation to create an environment that supports teen mothers and offers youth friendly services if unsafe abortions are ever to be eradicated. Community leaders have a big role to play in preventing childhood and forced marriages than pressure young girls into early sex and pregnancy at a tender age. The government must embed sex education programs within the school curriculum and train teachers to give accurate information on sexual and reproductive health issues to their students in an amicable atmosphere.
The boys have one big question to answer, “If I am not ready to be a father, why should I make her a mother?”