Source: Daily Monitor
Surveys carried out between January and June this year by the World Vision Uganda in Kiboga, Kyankwanzi, Bundibugyo, Hoima, Oyam, Soroti and Masaka districts indicate that child marriage and neglect are the most rampant forms of child abuses.

Norah Basemera, 18, has had two children since 2009 from two different men. She has two children; one aged two while the other is barely three months. “I had studied up to Primary Seven when my uncle, with whom I had been staying, died. I had no- body to take care of me because my mother was seriously sick,” Ms Basemera says. “Then there came a boy with whom I had been studying and he told me that he would take care of me. I thought I was still young to get pregnant,” Ms Basemera narrates.

However, when she became pregnant at 14, her “care taker” ran away from a responsibility he was supposed to bear and left Ms Basemera stranded. “I stayed in the house alone, and I decided to go to my step-father but he could only offer me help for one year after which I failed to get basic needs,” she adds.

“It is at this point that I got another man who pledged to take care of me but on condition that I should first have a child with him,” Ms Basemera says when asked about the baby she is holding in her hands.

Ms Basemera is one of the many girls in Bunyoro sub-region who are victims of child marriage. Around her are many other girls carrying babies but are under the age of consent – 18 years - as stipulated in the Ugandan Constitution.

The causes are widespread; poverty that forces parents to marry off children for financial gains, parents’ ignorance and harmful cultural practices that devalue and discriminate against women are the most notable in the area.

Surveys carried out between January and June this year by the World Vision Uganda in Kiboga, Kyankwanzi, Bundibugyo, Hoima, Oyam, Soroti and Masaka districts indicate child marriage and neglect are the most rampant forms of child abuses.

In Kiboga and Kyankwanzi, the findings revealed that 64.94 per cent of the respondents knew of an underage girl that had been married off.

Seventy two per cent of the respondents estimated that between 1-10 girls had been married off within the last six months. “The aforementioned statistics are a slap in the face of the country that has a robust legal and policy regime for child protection. The country has ratified the major international legal instruments and has also made significant progress in their domestication,” Ms Stella Ayo Odongo the executive director Uganda Child Rights NGO Network (UCRNN) says.

She called upon the government to enforce the registration of all births and marriages to support effective implementation of laws on minimum marriage age and create safety nets for girls and young women who escape a forced and often violent marriage.

Ms Odongo was speaking at the launch of the End of Child Marriages Campaign ahead of the Day of the African Child that was celebrated in Buikwe District on June 16. The project seeks interventions at all levels to minimise child marriages.

The problem is also recognised by local leaders and district officials as a big one.
Mr Fredrick Kakolaki, the Hoima District vice chairperson, says police have got to step up efforts, arrest and have the culprits punished. “Sometimes change cannot happen if there are no living examples, someone needs to be sacrificed and others will learn from them,” Mr Kakolaki said.

Kagulu South legislator Milton Muwuma, admitted to having visited one of the pubs [Sax Pub] in Hoima Town “where men lined up to attain sexual services from girls” who in his view were under age, requested that the onus is first on the society before any other party can “come to the girl’s rescue.”

“It is unfortunate that many people in this area [Hoima] know about that pub but they cannot report to police that it is putting the children’s lives in danger. They cannot expect police or any other person concerned to come to their rescue if they do not report,” Mr Muwuma said.
Gender minister Mary Karoro Okurut said it was such an “inexcusable act” to have as many children in the country. She has promised to make sure that amendments in the Children’s Act are among the things the Ninth Parliament takes interest in.

Though the Act bestows responsibility upon every citizen to lodge a complaint to local government authorities against any form of child abuse, it is silent on the punishment to be given to people who abuse rights of children, especially child marriages. “You see these men provide a lot of excuses to marry off young girls but it is really a tragedy but we cannot go on and look on as it continues to happen. What does a boy of 14 years know, what kind of marriage are we talking about here,” Ms Okurut said.

In a society where cultural belief of girls being valued as good as bride price, fighting child marriages still remains a tall mountain to climb even with interventions from different levels.


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