Uganda’s First Lady Janet Kataha Museveni who is also the Minister of Education and Sports has castigated parents for allowing their girls to marry at an early age depriving them of an opportunity to study and become more productive in future. Ugandan laws prohibit marriage before the age of 18 years is criminal and considered defilement.
In her speech delivered by the Minister of Youth and Children Affairs, Florence Nakiwala Kiyingi during a stakeholder consultative meeting on the Adolescent Girl Agenda in Gulu last week, Janet asked parents to consider the benefits of keeping a girl in school.
“Girls who stay in school, marry later and delay childbearing often have healthier children, are able to earn better incomes that benefit them and their family, community and the nation,” Janet said.
According to the 2014 National Census, 10% of children between 6-12 years and 4.1% between 13-18 years have never been to school, majority of whom are girls and children in rural areas.
The first lady adds that the adolescent stage of a girl’s life needs the moral support of not only parents but also the society where the children live.
“The decisions that are made during this period of life affect not only their individual well-being, but also the well-being of entire societies. Ensuring that they can successfully navigate this phase of life will help break the cycle of poverty and produce benefits for individuals, communities and our nation,” she rallied
Adolescent Girl Agenda is an initiative of the Organization of African First Ladies against Aids.
According to records from Gulu Regional Referral Hospital, 29 percent of the 300 deliveries at the facility are teenage pregnancies.
Mercy Atimango Fortunate, a student of Sacred Heart Girls School in Gulu says love affairs in schools and lack of encouragement from parents mislead the girls who need love and attention from their parents.
“Some parents are too harsh and difficult to approach. As a girl, there are things that I need to hear and learn from my parents not my peers,” Atimago asserts.
Simon Peter Wokorach from Layibi College says parents need to devise ways of talking to their children as it were according to tradition so that they are properly guided in life.
Wokorach argues that some parents are shy to talk to their children about the stages of development as adolescents.
“Sometimes parents need to involve us in decisions that directly affect us. If you can’t talk to us, send us to our aunties and uncles so that we know things about our body. Sometimes we are shocked by what our parents tell us after making a mistake.”
Meanwhile, Gulu Resident District Commissioner, Capt. Santos Okot Lapolo, believes society must get involved in affairs that affect adolescents so that more girls stay in school and lead a better life.
“Society is watching but very unconcerned about adolescent problems. These are our children. The First Lady’s initiative is a wake-up call to all of us to protect the rights of the youth especially the girl child because of their vulnerability,” said Lapolo.