A four-pronged approach to amplify the voices of young people on health issues could be the much-needed boost to raise awareness to gender-based violence (GBV) sexual reproductive health if the first-ever Regional Youth e-Summit is anything to go by.
Spearheaded by Reach A Hand Uganda (RAHU), the summit that attracted hundreds was simultaneously aired from four different locations of Kampala, Adjumani, Kasese and Mayuge, writes NATHAN ATILUK.
On October 16, several leading advocates for youth rights gathered at Victoria University to forge a way forward in increasing awareness of young people towards gender-based violence and sexual reproductive health.
World over, Uganda has one of the highest numbers of school dropouts, many of whom are young girls who quit education as a result of early pregnancies. Over the years, there have been a number of such cases in communities but only a handful end up being reported to the police while only a fraction make it to the courts of law.
Figures from Uganda National Examinations Board (Uneb) and Education and Sports Sector Annual Performance Reports (ESSAPRs) show that more than five million Ugandan children of school-going age have dropped out of primary school before P7 in the past 20 years.
Most of these cases are caused by poverty where young children, mostly girls, are married off or trade themselves for sex so as to get money for the family, hence leading to the high number of school dropouts and early pregnancy, among others.
In most cases where the child has been abused, parents of victims settle the matter with the perpetrators. It is on this background that RAHU organized this e-summit to address first-hand experiences of various people from different parts of the country. This was particularly a platform for young people to air their challenges and discuss to find solutions.
Themed Young People Amplified Voices for Health, Humphrey Nabimanya, the founder and team leader at RAHU, noted that they are committed to addressing the sexual reproductive health needs and challenges that young people continue to face, especially during times such as these, when young people are vulnerable.
“Covid-19 has presented the young people of Uganda with both new and old challenges, changing life as they know it and now, more than ever, the younger generation needs our support,” he said.
“Studies indicate that more than 6,000 girls have become pregnant during the Covid-19 period from the eastern region alone, and the evident rapid increase cases of gender-based violence. What intensifies the situation is the fact that Uganda is preparing to undergo elections and this has shifted the priorities of many of our leaders.”
Dr Maggie Kigozi, a medical doctor and educator, noted that parents need to do more to protect the young girls in these Covid-19 times.
“What most young girls need that they don’t get is knowledge and information. Nobody tells them anything. We need to listen to them and talk about their personal lives and we don’t need to get or feel bad to talk about sex with them because sex is reality. They need to know that men or boys are dangerous because many of these men are rapists; so, we need to talk with them so they know all this information,” she said.
She also challenged teachers and religious leaders to be more active towards addressing issues of sexual reproductive health.
“These young girls have to be informed in all aspects of life. They have the right to get all the knowledge whether at school or religious gathering. Government also needs to find ways and pass policies to protect the lives of the girls in the country so that these girls are not married off when they are still young. Meanwhile, stakeholders should not overlook the boy child too because most of the problems start with the man.”
Assistant Superintendent of Police Francis Ogweng, a child and family protection officer with Uganda Police Force, said there has been an increase in the number of child-abuse cases countrywide because the Covid-19 lockdown has adversely affected police programs.
“Because most people were not moving due to the ban on transportation, we have opened a toll-free line (0800199195) for people to report cases like defilement, rape, child neglect and domestic violence, among others,” he said.
As events in Kampala were ongoing, a similar summit in Kasese focused on the need for family planning. Balaam Baluku, the LC III chairman for Central division, Kasese district, noted that local leaders are engaging community members on family planning needs for young people in the Rwenzori region.
“Religious leaders should not hide sexual reproductive health information from young people. They need to be open enough and use the opportunity of the big followings to share this information for the good of the young people,” he said.
At the same event, Lillian Kusemererwa, a Sunday school teacher, said it is a collective responsibility for parents and religious leaders to embrace the young people so that they are can live righteous lives and understand the need to protect their health right from a young age.
Meanwhile, 17-year-old Betty Kabugho, a student at Kilembe SS, couldn’t hide her joy at the enlightment she got. “My brother is a peer educator; so, he advised me to attend the summit. I have learnt that there are various family-planning methods to use like condoms since they prevent STDs and unplanned pregnancies,” she said.
Here, more than 30 people, including young people, parents, local leaders and religious leaders joined the discussion focused on lived experiences of adolescent mothers and how to keep young girls in school.
Veronica Kagona, the Busoga kingdom minister for Youth and ICT, noted that it is everyone’s duty to continuously guide and advise young girls in the Busoga sub-region.
“We have mothers as young as nine years old. As we do that, we shouldn’t forget the boy child. They also need these outreaches and guidance,” she said. “Teenage mothers here face a number of complications like fistula after giving birth. Some babies are born premature and with other complications. Young people should feel free to ask for sexual reproductive health information and services at health centres.”
Gilbert Gremugo, a community health leader, tackled the issue of rising cases of sexual and gender-based violence in refugee communities in Adjumani.
“Young people in the refugee settlement are affected by their cultures. For some tribes, a girl’s bride price is paid at an early age and the man can come and take her away anytime he wishes even when they are still young,” he said. “This must stop and we are working to transform the mindset to respect human rights of young people.”