Teenagers make up 25% of the country's population and of these 25% are pregnant or have had a child before 19 years (UDHS 2011), ranking Uganda with the highest rates of teenage pregnancies in Sub-Saharan Africa. There is unmistakable link between teenage pregnancies, domestic violence and HIV/AIDS.
Teenage pregnancy is a national problem and is economically costly; for instance teenage pregnancy is one of the key factors leading to school drop out for many girls across the country thus hindering effectiveness of development programmes such as UPE and USE.
The teenage mothers become economically dependent due to their decreased educational attainment, their opportunities to improve their lives are crippled thus increasing their vulnerability to experiences of violence against them and their inability to make decisions about raising their children or making choices on the number of children.
Many girls experience domestic and sexual violence; sexual violence against girls in form of defilement in school, homes and communities is at epidemic levels and directly contributes to teenage pregnancy.
Studies indicate that sexual violence limits women/girl's ability to manage and control their reproductive health and exposes them to unwanted children and HIV/AIDS.
The Uganda Demographic Health Survey 2011 also indicates that 56% of women between ages 15 to 49 experience physical violence while 28% experience sexual violence every year.
Yet, defilement also remains the leading sex related crime reported in the country with a total of 7,690 cases according to the Police Crime Report 2011 compared to 7,564 cases in 2010 despite the amendment of the Penal Code Act and the coming into force of the Domestic Violence Act 2010.
While efforts to prevent teenage pregnancy focus on addressing school drop outs, and poverty reduction as measures to curb the problem, the circumstances associated with teenage pregnancy have not been broadened to include domestic and sexual violence a key causes. Domestic violence takes different forms; physical violence, Economic violence, physiological violence and sexual violence. In this context, emphasis is on sexual violence.
Uganda continues to face traditional and cultural norms that encourage acts of sexual violence to include; early marriages that have significant implications on teenage pregnancy.
This is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women. In most cases, the family institution where power relations are enforced and control over female sexuality, continues to promote teenage pregnancy to the detriment of the young girls' health and quality of life for herself and her children. In Uganda, more than half of the population of women is not safe at home due to domestic violence.
Domestic violence has a negative impact on production and prosperity, fuels the HIV epidemic (National HIV& AIDS Strategic Plan 2008-2012) and reduces economic development of each nation as reported in the UN Secretary General Report on VAW 2007.
According to CEDOVIP report on the Economic cost of Domestic violence (2012), every year; Uganda spends sh77b; individuals spend sh21b while Police, health care workers and courts of laws spend sh56b to address domestic violence.
Although the Government has put policies in place in response and prevention of teenage pregnancies, Domestic Violence Act implementation remains minimal. Violence against women and young girls has far reaching implications to the individuals, communities, the national economy and the quality of the population.
CEDOVIP would, therefore, like to draw the attention of the Government and other stakeholders that funding implementation of the Domestic Violence Act through national budget allocation of funds needs to be prioritised to address the underlying factors affecting the quality of Uganda's population. Implementation of this law will enable teenage girls exercise their rights to reproductive health including protection from teenage pregnancy.
As Uganda marks this year's World Population Day, CEDOVIP calls upon:
- The Uganda Population Secretariat to integrate domestic and sexual violence prevention in all their programming.
- The public and the government to take domestic violence and sexual violence against women and girls seriously as urgent problems that need urgent action.
- Condemn acts of sexual violence against girls and women because they are outlawed in Uganda, and report perpetrators of these acts to Police, LCs and courts of law
- For all men, women, girls and boys know more about the Domestic Violence Act and encourage its use to protect girls from teenage pregnancy
The Domestic Violence Law can keep the women, and men in your life safe, use it!
The writer is the Program officer communication and policy advocacy at,CEDOVIP