By Spy Uganda
Kampala: According to UNICEF, District leaders in Kitgum are worried as schools are set to resume in the area, more than half of the female students in the district are either married off or pregnant.
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According to June statistics that the district Community Development Office presented in a meeting with UNICEF, 1,519 girls below 19 years visited a hospital for antenatal care since the Coronavirus pandemic forced schools shut in March.
Despite the district’s best efforts to curb teenage pregnancies and early marriages, the cultural norms and practices of the Acholi and the effects of the long-fought war with the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) have been an impediment to key interventions.
The Coronavirus pandemic has not helped matters. With students who were previously under the custodianship of schools now back home, James Okello, the district Deputy Community Development Officer says the cases of child marriages and teenage pregnancies have skyrocketed.
“At Labongo Akwang Primary School, a teacher impregnated and later escaped with a 15-year-old pupil. When the headteacher tried to arrest him, the parents threatened to kill her and burn the school. The headteacher has even abandoned the school,” Okello said.
Okello recalls with anguish a recent case of child pregnancy involving a 13-year-old girl that was suffering from the nodding syndrome. She conceived of a 14-year-old schoolboy and gave birth normally but later succumbed to the disease that has plagued the district for over 10 years. While the district has organized the necessary psycho-social support for her family, the community’s attempt to cover up the pregnancy made it impossible for the authorities to act faster and hopefully save her life.
With a 60 percent violence ranking according to the Ugandan Demographic and Health Survey (UDHS) 2016, Kitgum District has the highest numbers of physical violence, child neglect, defilement, child abuse, and other forms of violence against women and children.
One of the local implementing partners, the National Association of Women’s Organisations in Uganda (NAWOU) is using UNICEF support to organize students and staff in human rights clubs and to train them on using gender principles to counter patriarchal system beliefs and practices that advocate for male dominion and inequitable power relations in communities.
The NAWOU Project Officer in Kitgum, Obedi Morish said that they have worked with the Uganda Law Society to successfully mediate 10 land ownership cases in which widows had been dispossessed and others denied access to their inheritance by a society that argued that women did not have ownership to land.
“After the LRA war, most of the families in Kitgum were run by matriarchs. It is therefore triggering to say that women who have been raising their children and fending for them are not entitled to ownership of any property. We have challenged this narrative with UNICEF support and the empowerment we have created cannot be reversed,” Morish said.
Just like the district officials, Morish has argued that UNICEF’s work with the Spotlight Initiative has boosted academic performance with the district registering the highest ever first grades in the 2019 Uganda National Examinations Board and one of their own students representing Uganda at the UN General Assembly in New York last year.