By Nangonzi Assumpta
Teenage pregnancy is one of the most devastating reproductive health challenges because it has consequences not only for the individual teenager, but also for the country and world as a whole. Teenage mothers are more at risk of unwanted pregnancy complications and disabilities, including obstetric fistula than women in the reproductive age brackets. Stillbirth and newborn deaths are 50% higher among infants of teenage mothers than among infants of mothers between the age of 20 and 29(UBOS 2011). According to WHO, 2012, maternal mortality Global report, un-safe abortion is the leading cause of death for adolescent girls yet again, the 2012 WHO Adolescent Pregnancy Fact sheet states that a third of teen pregnancies in the world end in abortion. Teenage pregnancy can be so destructive to a young generation for both girls and boys because it leads to school drop-out, loss of dignity in society, discrimination, but above all hinders critical development of a bright young mind.
Traditionally, the blame for pregnancies is placed on the girls; they are blamed for getting pregnant and yet stakeholders do little to protect teenage girls from avoiding such a heavy burden. Despite the fact that The Uganda 1995 Constitution provides for legal protection of children against child marriage, by setting a minimum legal age for marriage at 18 years for both males and females, statistics still show that 49% of Ugandan girls are married before their 18th birthday. These young girls are usually pressured to conceive as a marital obligation which is wrong because these children are not mentally and physically prepared for these obligations. Teenage pregnancy is therefore highest where child marriage is prevalent (UNFPA 2013) Statistics show that it is highest in the central Eastern region at 30.6%, followed by East with 30.3%, Karamoja at 29.7%, West Nile at 26.4% and Northern region at 20%(UBOS 2011)
Young people today do not get effective and relevant information on their sexual and reproductive health and rights. Several myths and misconceptions exist among teenagers on SRHR thus 54% of young people think a girl cannot get pregnant the first time she has sex (Straight Talk Foundation, 2013). It is also sad to note that only 5% of public health facilities in Uganda provide Youth Friendly Sexual and Reproductive Health services (Ministry of Health, 2011). 63% of young people were not happy with the services they received at a health center (Straight Talk Foundation, 2013).Teenage girls have limited access to contraception. Only 14% of girls age 15-19 use a contraceptive method (UBOS, 2011). This way, many teenagers fall victim of un-intended pregnancy and its consequences.
In 2015, Uganda not only adopted a National strategy to end child marriage and teenage pregnancy, but also integrated Sexuality Education in the lower secondary school curriculum to arm young women and men with information on their sexual and reproductive health and rights thereby making informed sexual choices that will help them prevent un-intended pregnancy. The national strategy identifies a variety of key actors in achieving its goal: Ministry of Education and Sports, Ministry of International Affairs, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Justice, Law and Constitutional Affairs, Office of the Prime Minister, Ministry of Finance Planning and Economic Development, Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries , Local Government Administration, Development partners, CSOs, Community members: parents, men, women, cultural and religious leaders, Girls and boys. This is evident that teenage pregnancy is such a complicated problem and that ending it is not a one man’s role, but a fight for all citizens. It is on this note that I call upon government to adopt the multi-sector approach to end Teenage Pregnancy and help the children achieve their full potential necessary for social, economic and political development of the nation.