Uganda's Teen Pregnancy: Causes and Solutions”
Essay from Jeremiah Lucas Opira Memorial Contest 2023
1st runner up, category 3
Teenage pregnancy is sometimes referred to as adolescent pregnancy, which is a global problem but most often occurs in poorer and marginalized communities. Therefore, it refers to a pregnancy in female adolescents or young adults at the ages of 10-19 years. This includes those who are legally considered adults in their country.
Currently in Uganda, 9 million adolescents make up a quarter of the population, yet life is harsh for many groups of people in a community, teenage pregnancies are one key problem.
Teenage girls in particular face a lot of vulnerabilities with severe risk of HIV infection. Two thirds of all HIV are contracted by them.
According to the Ministry of Health, 25% of Ugandan teenagers become pregnant by the age of 19, close to half are married before their 18th birthday and continue having babies up to their mid-40s. In Uganda, more than one out of four female adolescents (15-19 years) become pregnant with the rates being higher in rural than (27%) urban (19%) respectively.
Statistically, one in four girls in Uganda aged 14-19 years have had a child or are pregnant and 25% – 34% of Ugandan girls are married by 18 years. 28% of maternal deaths occur among young girls aged 15-20, young people are responsible for 24% of new HIV infections annually.
According to a report presented by UNFPA on April 13th, 2021, about 32,566 teenage girls got pregnant monthly, which is equivalent to 1052 per day. About 250 children aged below 15 years get pregnant monthly.
Therefore, the increasing teenage pregnancy is attributed to political, social, economic and geographical factors as discussed below.
Inadequate information about sexual and reproductive health and rights by many teenagers.
A greater percentage of this is found in a rural setting since they have limited avenues to learn all these compared to those in urban settings where public awareness is done through television which they have access to, but not everyone does. Most schools do not employ medical personnel who should at all times guide pupils in primary school and students in secondary school on growth and development that come as they grow up. They should also learn how to handle sexuality where many involve themselves in sexual intercourse just for pleasure without understanding the effects since they are not well educated about sexuality and their sexual rights. Besides that, many parents do not have that knowledge since the majority of villagers are not educated, hence the high rate of teenage pregnancy.
Family, community and social pressure toward girls encourages them to marry against their will.
Since most teenagers come from marginalized families, there are forces from within the family, especially when there are financial crises. Parents do force their young girls to marry, and some communities also have some strings attached to girls. For example, female genital mutilation is a contributing factor to early marriage. Sometimes girls feel and admire to be like others, yet they are not ready to be parents, so they are forced to marry to fit amongst their peers.
Sexual violence is also another cause of the increasing teenage pregnancy in our society.
Many girls get pregnant as a result of sexual violence like rape and defilement. This is very common between teachers and some students, and motorcycle raiders as many walks in the night for discos and unnecessary visits.
Lack of enough education by many teenagers comes as a result of poverty in our society.
The less educated ones who live in the village are prone to pregnancy since they are not exposed to the benefits of education compared to the girls in the urban areas who have been given the benefits of education mentorships and other things such as family guidance and other sexual skills given.
Distance between parents and their children in a family.
Some parents struggle to meet family needs and so they are not fully engaged in performing their duties. They leave most of the work to the maids which gives the girls freedom to do whatever they wish since most maids are also victims. Other may live in female-headed families which results in difficulty in managing her siblings and may later seek for unclean help when their needs are not met early enough by the parents who work in far places. These parents always visit home once in a while without proper knowledge of how their children were living.
The cultural values placed on fertility is another cause of the increasing number of teenage pregnancies.
Some parents observe body growth and development in the private parts of the girls. For example, breast development is seen as a sign of fertility which forces young girls between the age of 15 to 19 to venture ways to appease their parents, hence pregnancy. This hypothesis states that because there is a high cultural value on fertility since marriage and birth have become separated, young girls are more prone to conceiving early.
Ignorance of many teenagers about reproduction.
This is very common with girls in primary school and the less educated. According the Seabela (1990), two thirds of their samples of 109 teenagers and 145 pregnant teenagers were ignorant concerning the relationship between menstruation, fertility and conception at the time of conception. This lack of information concerning reproductive biology has been grounded to be a feature among the general teenage population.
Limited personal care to children.
Many parents do not take up their responsibilities of taking good care of their children and they send young girls to their relatives to work as a baby sitters, ignoring their education. This is common in northern Uganda where children are taken to urban areas for such kind of jobs and later come back when they are pregnant. As pregnant, the girls are seen as useless and as academic failures. No proper attention is given to them once they get to understand their body changes which make them explore a lot, hence pregnancy at an early stage.
Lack of money for school fees by parents to support their children leads to school dropouts.
A child leaves school and begins to look for any possible ways to get money for the school fees so that she goes back to school. This is seen when many abled people pretend to provide financial support to many female teenagers and later demand sex which results in pregnancy.
Poor implementation of the law against youths due to the misinterpretation of children’s rights.
The law forbids children below the age of 18 from consuming or drinking alcohol and attending disco dances. This is so rampant in villages where girls are allowed to go to dances for association, market days, and funeral services and they mix freely and become unconscious when they are drunk. This gives opportunity to men to lure them into sex, hence pregnancy.
The desire for children by teenagers.
There are some families with very few children and sometimes these young girls are compelled to get children when they are not ready through a connection from their parents and sometimes friends simply to simply fill in the gap to increase the number of children so they go for unprotected sex leading to teenage pregnancy.
Leaving young girls to do some businesses is risky.
For example, girls from 15-19 years are sent to local alcohol “kwete” in trading centers in search of money. In this situation, they are wooed by men who might have come to drink alcohol and later abused them sexually, resulting in pregnancy.
Violence against young girls.
Girls between 15-19 years is estimated to have already been subjected to physical and sexual violence from an intimate partner at least once in their lifetime, and 16% of adolescent girls and young women. This makes them run for refuge at their convenience to avoid any other damage that would be caused to them where sometimes they are again abused sexually where they have been accommodated.
The influence of media is another contributing factor to the increased teenage pregnancy.
Media has a large effect on teen pregnancy, especially shows such as “Teen mom” and “16 and Pregnant”. These programs often glamorize pregnancy and hide the true hardships associated with pregnancy which encourages these teens to become pregnant thinking that it is okay. They come out to try and end up getting pregnant.
Rebellion and indiscipline by some teens are also other reasons why some teens will become pregnant.
To show their independence and deem themselves as having more control over their lives, a teen may decide to have a child. TV programs are glorifying the idea of having a child through the promotion of these teenagers having a more adult lifestyle with more responsibility and decision-making.
Some places are also contributing factors to teenage pregnancy.
Places like military barracks and refugee settlements that bring people from different backgrounds with both good and evil intentions together sometimes force young girls into sexual relationships in a bid to give them support.
Lack of knowledge, access and use of contraceptives.
The use of contraceptives may be a result of advice given by a partner or parents upon unprotected sex like rape or defilement.
Lack of provision of specific programs.
There is a need for implementing programs for girls and boys from 13 to 19 years in communities to participate in sex education so that they avoid early sexual encounters and multiple sexual partners.
Poor and limited mentorship to youths both in primary and secondary school about their future life.
Many teens are not given time to speak out their views during teens session whereby mentorship and motivation are given. They grow up without inspiration that should guide them in achieving their dream career.
Poor communication between the children and parents is also another reason for the increasing teenage pregnancy.
Communication patterns in a family setting is a contributing factor. The choices of words used by the parents while communicating in case a child has done something bad make him or her decide negatively. This is very common in rural settings by parents who use abusive and provocative words when disciplining their children.
Unfavorable education systems.
In our country Uganda do not recognize the skills in an individual child outside of class work. Failure in class calls for stigmatization which lowers the self-esteem of a girl and later resorts to having a family at an early age.
In summary, teenage pregnancy is on the rise due to the influence of peers, parents and local leaders who fail to implement and punish culprits that are found to abuse teenagers, religious beliefs, societal desires, unfollowed government plans and environmental factors among others. Contrary to these, it is again the role of every individual to control teenage pregnancy.