I have been involved in a few projects that have given me the opportunity to travel within this country.
In December 2012 and around January this year, I was in Kabarole and Kasese districts. I saw the behaviour of teenage girls, their willingness to move out with men they barely even know and possibly engage in sexual acts with them.
A few months ago, I got the opportunity of being drafted into the technical team for the Internet Now project of Oxfam Novib in the greater northern Uganda. I thus travelled widely and regularly to Gulu and the whole Acholi sub-region. What I saw in relation to reckless behaviour of teenage girls was very disheartening.
During the LRA war in northern Uganda, there was a practice known as night commuting in Acholi which involved hundreds of children moving from their households at night to go sleep in the safer urban centres. The effect of this way of living probably did not end with the war.
Young girls have continued to come to town in the night, not only to look for money through sexual acts but also to seek plain sexual satisfaction through actively involving themselves in the practice. As opposed to the urban notion where women who engage in commercial sex do it in exchange for money, in Gulu, females have desire for intensive sex just for enjoyment, a situation I accept is human but very bizarre.
Further, the ‘night commuters’ were used to free food among other social amenities; therefore, going back to work to get these amenities is not easy thus preferring to continue coming to town in the night. The young girls on the streets are not afraid of HIV; they are afraid of pregnancy, a situation I found to be mindboggling. This has contributed to an HIV prevalence rate of 22 per cent within Gulu municipality alone – almost four times the national average (7.3 per cent).
Young people are particularly at risk as they become sexually active, and research has shown that 45 per cent of new infections that occur in those aged 15 and above do so before they reach 25 years. This is happening at a time when many organisations, government agencies and donors are investing and tirelessly working towards fighting sexual prejudice, HIV and child-related social evils.
On interacting with a few teenagers in Gulu town to find out why they prefer this mode of living as opposed to getting married (for those who have attained the marriage age), they vehemently pointed out the disadvantages of marriage concluding that it was not a solution. They said they would not want to be tied down in a marriage yet their interest in sex is very high, thus needing satisfaction. I was told that some young women in the sub-region are very sexually hyperactive, yet their partners may have a low sex drive.
Without sexual satisfaction in their official relationship, they look for alternative ways of achieving it outside. They told me that at a place called Olego, near the Uganda-South Sudan border, women there detain men who do not heed to their sexual demands.
On an encouraging note, the girls agree that there is high HIV prevalence and will not walk away without telling you (a visitor). According to my respondents, having a Taso regional centre in Gulu has partly made teenagers less afraid of HIV because they are sure it will not kill them as long as they can access free medication.
I asked my taxi driver what could be done about this uncouth social life. He responded by saying it is very hard to control girls. He continued that it was difficult to know the number of sexual relationships one has, because these are acts that are perpetuated in private. He also told me that the existence of the concept of “human rights” made it more difficult to apprehend the girls.
In a nutshell, there is dire need for behavioural change in Gulu and several parts of rural Uganda in a bid to tame thoughtless sexual behaviour and the spread of HIV/Aids as a whole. Government needs to look into this and find amicable solutions in regard to the social life of teenagers. Leaders in Acholi sub-region and northern Uganda at large need to come together and find workable solutions towards this reckless behaviour.
The author is an ICT and social behavioural expert.