Kampala-It is normal for a fully grown woman to confidently walk with a pregnancy. However, not the same is true about a teenage girl; some can barely stand the shame of showing the whole world they had sex, by carrying a pregnancy. They decide to take the easy way out and terminate the pregnancy.
Teenage pregnancy is a long walk of shame, ridicule, scoff, demean, humiliation and psychological torture. Society judges these girls in a manner that increases more pain to their discomfort. Worse still, some are not allowed back into school after birth.
Whereas it is not moral for a teenage girl to be involving in sexual affairs according to our societal, cultural, and religious standards; teenage girls get pregnant all the same. It takes a lot of courage for them to keep the babies; resulting from consensual sex, rape or defilement.
Martha is one such girl. At a time when she is supposed to be enjoying her first year as a teenager, she is deep down in Butagaya village nursing her three month old baby. This 13-year old now wears a face of a 30 year old woman.
Whereas her friends ran home last year with report cards reading ‘promoted to primary four’, Martha was at home carrying a stomach that almost seemed heavier than she could carry. Formerly a primary three pupil at Main Street Primary School in Jinja, Martha hid in the house whenever it was lunch time or evening, so that her friends returning from school could not laugh at her ‘big stomach’. For nine months, she was at the Orthodox Church’s courtyard on Gokhale Road in Jinja, battling the hurdles that come with pregnancy.
“I didn’t know that missing periods is a sign of pregnancy. No one ever told me yet I started menstruating in P.1,” Martha said looking down while shyly plucking the grass near her stool. The innocence in this girl’s voice is heart breaking. One cannot help but wonder how she could end up in such a situation.
Living in the care of her elder sister, a security guard commonly referred to as Mama Kawesa, Martha was allegedly impregnated by a neighbor identified as Deo. Mama Kawesa says he ran away from that place as soon as he realized he could have impregnated the little girl.
“I do not know why an old man with three children would even sleep with such a young girl. Now you see, this child is a mother to another child. She told us he was responsible for her pregnancy,” Mama Kawesa said.
Mama Kawesa alleges that they reported to the area police station in Butagaya, Lumuli village; where Deo hails from, but he was bailed out by the Local Council Chairperson who is his relative. She says Deo came to rent at the Orthodox Church while he looked for a job in town.
“He decided to run away and now we do not know if we should take Martha to his family. But how will they prove he is the baby’s father if he is not around?” Mama Kawesa said while she cleared the eggplants off her metallic plate with a big ball of posho. “I am a security guard and most times I work in the night. I do not have enough money and will not be in position to properly take care of Martha,” she added.
Martha gave birth in February at Jinja Referral Hospital through C-section, and is now living with her parents in Butagaya, a village in Busoga, Eastern region. However, she denies having had any love relationship with Deo. When asked why she ended up having a child for him, Martha says;
“Yali ampa sente edho kulya kwisomero. Yali ampa nusu bitano, olusi bibiri” (He used to give me money for buying eats at school. He usually gave me five hundred and sometimes two hundred shillings).
You can imagine, for just a few shillings, this old man brought an end to this little girl’s childhood. Right now, Martha cannot think about only play and homework; she has a young one to take care of.
Such and many more are the sad stories we hear from young mothers who are often victims of abuse or consent due to a variety of reasons ranging from ignorance, promiscuity, and poverty; to lack of proper guidance.
Indeed, it is ironic that Martha, who went to a public school where HIV control programmes that advocate for delayed sexual debut to reduce the risk of sexual transmission of HIV are constantly communicated, says she did not know that a missed period is a sign of pregnancy.
Could it be an issue that needs to be redressed? Government has rolled out programmes such as Go Back to School (GBS), Presidential Initiative on Aids Strategy for Communication to the Youth (PIASCY), and the contentious “Let girls be girls” campaign; but cases of school dropout due to pregnancy still ring loud in most people’s ears through the media.
According to the 2011 Uganda Demographic Survey, about 14 percent of young women and 16 percent of young men in the age group 15-24 had their first sex early in life, before the age of 15. Nearly six in 10 young women (58 percent) and half of young men (47 percent) had had sex before age 18.
The report further indicates that in many societies, young women have sexual relationships with men who are considerably older than they are. It was also established that overall, 13 percent of women between the ages of 15-19 who had had sexual intercourse in the past 12 months had sex with a man 10 or more years older than they were.