The dusty road unwinds down the flurry of trees hastily running behind our car. The quiet around the homesteads only broken by the running of the engine as we head to visit a Soroti village.
A grass-thatched hut with two kids in the compound designates a stop to a four-hour journey from the city in pursuit of realism to the perturbing statistics released earlier in 2006 by the Uganda demographic health survey.
One out of every four Ugandan pregnancies are teenage pregnancies, for a country drowning with an ever-expanding population, these figures are not only shocking but worrying over the future given the limited resource potential.
Betty (pseudo-name for dignity purposes) has fond memories of her school life recounting every tale of education taught to her by her teachers, she often takes off time to smile as she narrates the story of her 20-year old life run down in ruins by a pregnancy she could have avoided and a marriage she hardly decided.
Betty grew up in a society whose appreciation of education was not as much. Pregnancy on the other hand and more so if the baby were male was embraced in it’s wholesomeness and the elderly community hardly refused school drop-outs for marriage purposes.
She had a short-lived school life at Ngora girls’ school often juggling through domestic chores, and education before the common girl’s norm, as it is told here, struck her. PREGNANCY!
“I did not know of babies, I only saw them with my mother, the only baby I had ever held was my young brother” she narrates. Unknown to her in a few months, Betty would join the 49% of girls married at the age of 18 and further still her education had come to a disastrous end. She was also to later bear two other children by the age 18.
The story of Betty, is an age-old story in Uganda, local communities have learned to despise girl child education as a wasted investment and girls play as potential sources of wealth through bride price due to the poverty in most of the rural communities.
Addressing women empowerment and girl-child education is a growing trend in the country. Many non-government organisations have stepped up efforts and defied community beliefs to get girls going to school and addressing teenage pregnancies.
For girls like Betty in a country with high maternal death rates and poor antenatal services in most of the rural communities, their health cannot be guaranteed and furtherstill stability in their marriages is also not a given.
Limited political will in addressing feminine concerns further derails the independence of girl children in the country.
As the international day of the girl child approaches, Betty grapples with feeding her two children and ploughing the gardens every morning. Education to her is a lost dream though many organisations have offered her the opportunity. She says it will be of no benefit to re-sit her o-level examinations and pursue a degree yet she has already settled down with her husband.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) will celebrate the international day of the girl child on 11th October under the theme “too young to wed, end child marriages and teenage pregnancies” in an effort to address the cchallenges faced by the girl child in Uganda.