Uganda is home to 5 million child brides. Of these, 1.3 million married before age 15. Source: UNICEF global databases, 2020.
By Acipa Doreen & Awor Christine
Lira—7, November 2021: Over 5,459 boys below the age of 19 years were forced into early marriage in Lango sub region between January to July 2021.
Pius Odongo, 20, is a student of Lira School of Comprehensive Nursing. He said for a long time the society has had a bias mindset on boy child, stereotyping and sidelining them and only focusing on empowering girl child leaving boys to whoever it may concern.
Odongo said poverty has greatly contributed to early marriages, adding that parents are easily getting tired of their boy children with a feeling that they have done a lot for them hence pushing them to marry and start their own families.
“Lack of quality education, counseling and awareness on how to go about life is greatly affecting boys because they are not being considered,” he continued, in an interview.
Oscar Ojuka is aged 18 and a resident of Aloi sub county in Alebtong district. Ojuka said most organizations, government and civil society only come out to fight for the rights of girl child yet the law gives all children the equal rights and responsibilities.
Ojuka blames it on weak a cultural norm that empowers young boys as the head of the family after marriage.
The question remains “who will stand for the rights of boy child in Uganda?” Children’s rights are provided in the Constitution of Uganda. Many say boy children are always neglected making it hard for them to demand when their rights are being violated. To some extent, local leaders are involved in the violation of their rights.
This issue has raised many debates and other people came up with disputed ideas; why this? Is it because everyone lacks a straight stand?
George Ojwang Opota is the clan leader of Omola-Acol-Odyek-Onywal-Iceng who said all children are the same and parents should see ways of taking children equally.
“When you move around trading centers, you find that it is flooded with young boys, indulging in drug abuse, immoral acts. When you go to prison, you find it flooded with young boys, bad groups, streets same issues, what now we can do to fill this gap,” he exclaimed.
“The issues of children’s right have kept our hands tight because we cannot now discipline children freely like it was done in African Traditional Society,” Ojwang added.
Reverend Johnson Ogema of Victor Outreach Ministries said most times government and organizations only advocate for women’s emancipation.
“This has made boy child to do unthinkable things to frustrate the efforts put like impregnating girls. Explaining the rising number of teenage pregnancy and child mothers in Northern Uganda.”
He said this is increasing the number of street children which is a very big security threat.
Moris Chris Ongom is the CEO GLOFORD Uganda who doubles as the President Lira City Development Forum. Ongom said all children have equal rights regardless of the kind of society they come from and it seems the current government values one gender more than another.
“Boys can adapt to any kind of environment even if thrown to the bus, they can survive, and that’s how unique God created boys and it’s mistaken for strength,” he said.
He appealed to cultural leaders to embrace change and give good leadership to boy child so that they can in future know how to treat all their children with utmost importance.
Ongom called upon all civil society organizations advocating for girl to focus on all children.
Francis Ogweng who is a gender activist for ‘He or She’ project objected the idea that boy child has been ignored. He said because of the eroded tradition, women and girl child have suffered big havoc in Uganda.
“Government and those other international NGOs must have a very strong reason for advocating more for women as compared to boy child because of the stereotypes in our society,” he advocated.
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Ogweng further said that men are already empowered at birth so there is no much needed advocating a lot for them.
He said the only viewpoint he can agree with is that the boy child should be sensitized on how best they can handle girls, by doing that, it is enough support to them.
“Sometimes back, our minds were flooded with male chauvinism and women were taken as inferior beings, do we need to go back to a mean society like that? If not, then let us keep up the fight to emancipate women from such vice,” he banged.
The chairperson of the male youth councilors in Lango sub region James Okol said COVID-19 greatly affected the youth in the region. He also said that poor culture stings, lack of positive parenting and community sensitization has sent many boys to early marriage.
“Boys need to be empowered, skilled while both youth and the entire community sensitized,” Okol is also the male youth councilor, Kwania district, said.
According the officials, a total of 5,459 boys were forced to marry at teenage ages in Lango.
In an exclusive interview with the assistant district health officer Lira district Dr. Edmon Aceka, these 5,459 boys were forced to marry during the first and second lockdowns.
In the statistics, Lira recorded 710 cases, followed by Oyam with 692 cases, Apac 684, Kwania 574, Kole 666, Otuke 584; Dokolo 538, Amolatar 499 and Alebtong with 412 cases.
World Bank ranked Uganda 9th among the top 20 “hotspot” countries for child marriage. In 2013, Uganda was ranked 16th among 25 countries with the highest rates of early marriages.
In Northern Uganda, child marriage is at 51.5% and the high fertility rate in Lango sub region stands at 6.2%.