ActionAid International Uganda and the Joshua Cheptegei Foundation on Friday held a run to fight the frequent cases of early marriages and teenage pregnancies in Kween and Kapchorwa districts in the Sebei sub-region.
The 5km, 10km and 15km races were flagged off by Kween Member of Parliament, Hon William Chemonges, at Kween district headquarters and joined by local leaders.
According to Samuel Francis Ononge, the Project Officer, ActionAid is implementing a project sponsored by the United Nations population Fund (UNFPA) aimed at ending early marriages and teenage pregnancies, which he called a serious violation of the rights of the girl-child, as well as providing the community with information on sexual reproductive health.
“We realized that even before COVID-19, the practice was high but was worsened by the lockdown. Child marriage is now slightly reducing because of dialogues with cultural leaders, the communities and engaging young people,” he said.
According to Ononge, poverty in rural areas is the biggest drive because girls are treated as source of wealth.
He also cited low levels of education, limited access to schools, lack of parental responsibility and a permissive society with no rules and controls which leaves girls exposed to early sex.
Ononge blamed teenage pregnancies on low absorption of family planning.
“As you have heard, it is a taboo to speak of sexual issues before the elders, that’s why even parents are not educating children on sexual issues.”
In his speech, MP Chemonges told parents that there was nothing more important than preparing the future of their children.
“I must say today is a very important day for us in Sebei because we are here to prepare the future of our children. Even if you have good houses and money in the account but you have not prepared for the future of your children, it means you have killed the family and are killing the country,” said Chemonges who also doubles as the regional whip of Sebei sub-region.
“So, the best investment you can make in your family, clan or in other positions that we hold is to prepare our children. You all have children, some of us are working day and night to be rich, have good houses and be seen as leaders but all these are useless if you don’t bring up your children properly.”
According to him, a spoilt child who is poorly brought up will sell that house cheaply. “We must invest in our children.”
He also warned older women who are having babies with young boys, suggesting that they be arrested as well.
“Most of us are talking about the girls but we also need to talk about the boys. There are women who are older and have produced children with young boys, so those women must also be arrested.”
Speaking to SoftPower News, Geoffrey Chelogoi, the LCV Chairperson for Kween district, said the race was organised because of increasing teenage pregnancies.
“This run is aimed at recognising the young people and also encouraging athletes. These teens getting pregnant could be potential runners. My participation together with the MP and RDC will encourage the young upcoming athletes that this can be done. We wanted to show them that with courage they can achieve,” he said.
Hope Atuhaire, Kween Resident District Commissioner (RDC), urged fathers to take more initiative in raising their children.
“Girls are usually impregnated by the men closest to them, lack of a father figure in growth hasn’t helped much,” she noted.
Karamoja beauty queen and Miss Africa Golden 2020 Winner, Pamela Aleper, inspired the youth and encouraged them to stay in schools and be able to inspire the next generation.
“I have been able to motivate myself to stay in school. It starts from you. Even if a parent gives you money to go to school, if you don’t focus on your books, at the end of the day, you will drop out,” she noted.
She added: “Karamoja sub-region has also been struggling with the challenge of teenage pregnancies and early marriages but NGOs and different stakeholders have been able to go the villages and talk to the girls to encourage them to go to school, stay in school and concentrate on their books.”
Globally, child marriage undermines 33,000 lives every day, according to UNFPA’s State of the World Population Report 2020 which further shows that an estimated 650 million girls and women alive today were married as children, and by 2030, another 150 million girls under the age of 18 will be married if no intervention is done.
In Uganda, 43% of women age 25-49 were married before the age of 18, according to the Uganda Demographic and Health Survey (UDHS) 2016.
Child marriage is not only a human rights violation, it also increases the risk of teenage pregnancy, which can have a profound effect on the health and lives of young women.
The event closed with an awarding ceremony where the participants were given scholastic materials including sets, books, pens, pads (for girls) and school bags.