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Abim district, Northern Uganda – Fourteen-year-old Ruth* said no to child marriage. She rejected her mother’s demands to get married to a man twice her age.

A primary five pupil and a member of Agile Empowerment and Livelihood for Adolescent (ELA) club in Agule village, Morulem parish, Abim district in North Eastern Uganda, Ruth aspires to become a pilot. However, early this year, she found out about her mother’s plan to marry her off. 

“I was at home reading my books when a certain man came, and my mother welcomed him. Then she told me that ‘this is your husband’. She wanted two goats and some little money from him. But I refused,” Ruth narrated.

“I told her I am just 14-years-old and so young to get married. I didn’t want to get married nor pregnant and risk suffering complications of teenage pregnancies like fistula. Besides, I needed to continue with my education.”

Ruth narrated that her mother got so furious and could not believe that her daughter would disobey her.  She sent her away from home. Ruth found solace at the home of Medesta Adero, a mentor at the Agile ELA club, automatically joining the club.

 Just like many ELA clubs across Uganda, Agile club empowers adolescent girls by providing life skills, including sexual reproductive health information, with topics such as prevention of teenage pregnancy, child marriage, menstrual hygiene, family planning, and prevention of gender-based violence.  The clubs also provide economic livelihood skills with modules including financial literacy and support with business start-ups.

In 2021, a total of 300 clubs were formed, hosting 11,000 vulnerable girls in Karamoja sub-region, with some starting on various livelihood projects such as tailoring, selling household items, selling food, among others.

In December, a total of 1,750 adolescent girls, aged 14-24 graduated from 70 clubs across Uganda, following a 12-months empowerment programme. 

The clubs are facilitated by BRAC Uganda, with support from UNFPA and funding from the Austrian Development Agency, European Union Spotlight Initiative, and Embassy of Sweden under United Nations Joint Programme on Gender-Based Violence.

According to Pamella Alanyo, the Programme Officer at BRAC Karamoja sub-regional office, the girls are holistically empowered, including equipping them with leadership skills.

“It is from this kind of participation that the girls build self-esteem.  They are mentored to become more confident, to stand out and strongly resist, and to speak to fellow peers, parents, and the community on the challenges that girls face when not protected from abuse,” she says.

At Agile club, Ruth works to create awareness among her peers in the community. “We create awareness about the dangers of child marriage, teach other girls on how to make sanitary pads, among other livelihood skills,” she says.

“My dream is to become a pilot. I am going to study hard and become a pilot. I will be a powerful and great woman in future to fight child marriages, defilement, teenage pregnancies and gender-based violence,” Ruth says, full of hope.

Compiled by Samuel Okiror/UNFPA