Civil Society Organizations and local government leaders in Lira district have agreed on the need to expedite adolescent sexual reproductive health services at the various health centers after it emerged on Tuesday that over 5000 teenagers got impregnated in a year.
While presenting a paper on the status of adolescent reproductive health services in most health centers in Lira district at Lira Municipal Council boardroom, Dr. Edmond Aceka, the district Assistant health officer in charge infant and maternal health, noted that it was worrying that girls of school going ages are getting married off before the age of 18.
According to a data available at the district as presented by Dr. Aceka, cases of teenage pregnancies and child marriage is skyrocketing in rural areas as compared to divisions in the municipality and Peri-urban areas.
“I feel sad and I almost want to shade tears when presenting this kind of report about our girls who should be in school but are getting impregnated…,” Dr. Aceka lamented
According to his report, Adyel Division has 1289 teenage pregnancies, 502 was recorded in Agali sub-county, Agweng sub-county registered 287, Agweng Town council 35, Amach sub-county 448, Aromo sub-county 466, Barr sub-county has 405,Central division 98, Ngetta sub-county 355, Lira sub-county 356, Ogur sub-county 402, Railway division 55 and Ojwina division had 221 cases recorded.
The World Bank in 2013 ranked Uganda 9th among the 20 “hot spot” countries in child marriage. The same report ranked Uganda 16th among top 25 countries leading in early marriages with 46% of girls being married before the age of 18 and 12% before they are 15 years.
In Northern Uganda, child marriages stand at 51.5% while teenage pregnancy is at 35.3%, respectively.
Whereas it is now a widely held view that there is increased access to contraceptives by the adolescents, available statistics show that its usage is still low.
Contraceptives access by adolescent’s girls aged 15-19 stands at a paltry 20.9% resulting into unplanned pregnancies in at least 4 out of every 10 teenagers while over 800 unsafe abortions are carried out every day contributing to at least 26% of maternal death annually.
Global Forum for Development – GLOFORD Uganda headed by Morris Chris Ongom as the Executive Director in its health monitoring report indicates that youth friendly corners are lacking in most health centers, an indicator that most teenagers are having limited access to adolescent sexual reproductive health services.
Leaders speak out on gaps
During the meeting leaders identified predisposing factors that have contributed to teenage pregnancies in the district. Lillian Ocare, the Lira sub-county chief blames the trend on bad parenting.
She says some of the parents in the rural areas have taken on alcoholism, are irresponsible and have failed to provide the needs of the girl child such as sanitary towels and such girls, she says are lured into early sexual activities by men who have money in their communities.
“Some parents have only one house which they share with their children and during conjugal enjoyment, the children are awake, they later get tempted to practice what they hear,” Mrs. Ocare added.
On the same note, George Okello Ayo, the district LC5 vice chairperson Lira district urges parents to take responsibility of protecting their daughters from men who want to “scavenge” on them.
Okello Ayo also observed that poverty has made most parents unable to provide for the basic needs of their children, adding that the problem is compounded by the fact that children are giving birth to children and they end up in the same vicious circle of poverty.
Meanwhile, Dr Patrick Buchan Ocen, the Lira district health office also highlighted domestic violence as another factor pushing girls into child marriages especially when their parents separate.
He however wondered why the district cannot implement the domestic violence ordinance it enacted years ago.
Among the key recommendations that came from the meeting was the integration of adolescent sexual reproductive in health services monitoring and quarterly evaluation report to monitor progress made.
Other recommendation was the provision of adolescent friendly corners, specialized training of health workers to counsel the youth and routine visits to schools within the district to have the youth talked to.
James Omara Elem, the male youth councilor proposed that the information be shared with the health committee so that it is deliberated on and also pushed to the main council for policy issues that can curb down the increasing cases of teenage pregnancies.
The estimated population of Lira district, as of 2011 was 389,300. As of now, it is projected to be 416, 100 with an annual population growth rate of 3.6%. About 239,500 of these are children.