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IRC warns of reproductive health and child protection challenges in emergency situations

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Over 4,000 girls under 18 years reported their first Antenatal Care (ANC) visit at various IRC-supported health facilities in Bidi Bidi Refugee Settlement between January 2020 – September 2022. Furthermore, nearly 2,000 teenage deliveries were reported at various health facilities in the same period.

As the world marks the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, the IRC warns of the effects of early pregnancy and sexual exploitation on the well-being of adolescent girls in emergency situations. This year’s theme “UNITE! Activism to end violence against women and girls” calls for concerted efforts to protect at-risk girls and women from gender-based violence.

Elijah Okeyo, IRC Uganda Country Director said:“With all focus drawn to the COVID-19 response and now the Ebola outbreak in Uganda, some critical sectors and social services have been deprioritized. Several vulnerable girls are unfortunately at higher risk of sexual exploitation and violence, and this has become a chronic problem_. Getting pregnant would force these teenage girls out of school and deprive them of opportunities to make a decent livelihood._ It is high time attention is brought back to key sectors such as education, child protection and targeted sexual health and rights information and services for young girls and boys.”

Prevention of Sexual Exploitation coupled with sexual reproductive health services that protect children from abuse, and provision of opportunities for girls to stay in or go back to school are critical to curbing this growing challenge. The IRC through different programs, including health and Women Protection and Empowerment is reaching out to these girls to provide information and services in addition to encouraging them to go back to school.

One of the IRC clients from Bidi Bidi Refugee Settlement, 19-year-old, Moreen said: “I attended all the sessions under the program including ‘Sarah’s story. This session gave me hope, especially the part about education that showed me that I wasn’t too late to go back to school to achieve my dream. Before all this [pregnancy], I had a dream of becoming a lawyer and I realized I can still achieve that dream if I go back to school. So, I decided then that I will go back to school.”

The IRC began programming in northern Uganda in 1998 in response to mass displacement wrought by the Lord’s Resistance Army. Since then, the IRC has expanded to provide critical services for refugees and at-risk Ugandans throughout the country.

The IRC started supporting refugees and vulnerable individuals in Kampala in 2012 and was one of the first organizations to respond in 2016 at the onset of the South Sudanese refugee crisis. As of 2019, the IRC entered Tooro to support refugees while also providing epidemic preparedness and response services throughout the region.

In addition to emergency support, the IRC also invests in long-term stability for refugees and Ugandans through programs like immunization, family planning, legal services, women’s protection and empowerment, education, and livelihoods. Earlier this year, the IRC was also involved in supporting Afghan evacuees in Uganda.

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