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Parliamentarians pass motion to end teenage pregnancy, child marriages

Members of the Ugandan Parliament have urged government to develop and enforce policies and strategies to protect girls against escalating cases of teenage pregnancy and child marriage during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

A motion to this effect was moved by Hon. Jovah Kamateka, Woman Representative Mitooma district and passed by the Speaker of Parliament Hon Rebecca Kadaga during plenary proceedings on April 8.

 “As Members of Parliament we are deeply concerned about the increasing number of young girls getting pregnant, with  some of them being married off,” said Hon. Kamateka.

“In many cases these girls do not even have a choice to decide whether to get pregnant or not. This is also an issue of poverty, whereby  these girls are married off early where parents see them as a source of wealth. Every girl is entitled to complete school so that they can fulfil their potentials,” she said in a telephone interview.


Speaker of Uganda’s Parliament Hon. Rebecca Kadaga has been instrumental
in championing the fight against harmful practices like child marriage,
teenage pregnancy and female genital mutilation in Uganda.

 

The MP said the motion aims at prompting government to act on  the commitments made to protect the rights of women and girls in the context of leaving no one behind and achieving national development goals.


Hon. Jovah Kamateka, Woman Representative
Mitooma district moved the motion.

 “We would like to urge government to have firm policies to allow pregnant girls to go back to school, and to implement laws that we have in place against gender based violence. We would also like to see the National Strategy to end child marriage and teenage pregnancy in Uganda (2015-2020) updated.

The MP also highlighted the significance of involving parents and guardians  in prevention of teenage pregnancies and early child marriage.

 “We would also want to see the parents engaged and sensitized through religious and cultural institutions to carry out responsible parenting. The home should be a secure environment where girls are protected from unplanned pregnancies.

“We would also want to see that our mothers are economically empowered so they can fend for their  girls and protect them from transactional sex as a result of inability  to afford basic necessities like sanitary pads,” Hon Kamateka said.

UNFPA Representative Mr Alain Sibenaler commended the parliamentarians  for their continued leadership in advocating for population issues particularly through strategic interventions aimed at strengthening legal and policy frameworks and enforcement of existing laws prohibiting harmful cultural practices like child marriage and teenage pregnancy.

 “Now more than ever before, Uganda needs your oversight responsibility to hold the gatekeepers accountable to deliver an integrated package of rights and choices for everyone.

“We can only change a woman or girls’ world if she has access to affordable and acceptable sexual and reproductive health services. This therefore means zero unmet need for family planning, zero preventable maternal death and zero gender based violence,” Mr Sibenaler said.

 

Child marriage and teenage pregnancy in Uganda

Child marriage and teenage pregnancy remain significant      challenges in Uganda. Although the legal age of consent to marriage is set at 18, getting married formally or informally before this age is a common practice. According to the Uganda Demographic Health Survey (UDHS, 2016) in Uganda, 43% of women age 25-49 were married before the age of 18. Moreover, child marriage remains the  main contributing factor to teenage pregnancy with 1 in 4 girls either pregnant or having  already had her first child by the age of 19. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with movement restrictions and closure of schools, put more girls at risk of  sexual exploitation, with thousands of teenage girls reported to have become pregnant or been married off.    

Working with parliamentarians

UNFPA in Uganda has long recognized the strategic role played by parliamentarians in advocating for  and promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights.  Through the Uganda Parliamentary Forum on Food Security, Population and Development, UNFPA works with parliamentarians to follow up  implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action including advocacy for adequate financing to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights.

- Written by Evelyn Matsamura Kiapi