ree percent of Uganda’s population is of adolescents (10 – 19 years). The rate of teenage pregnancy is at a high and stagnant level of 24% making it a social and public health issue. It is a challenge for the teenage girl, father to be, her family and society too. In most cases, this teenage girl is not ready to be a mother physically, financially and emotionally. Because of that, teenage pregnancy becomes a public health issue: creating a negative effect on maternal and child health. The risk of maternal death is twice higher amongst females of age 15 – 24 years and five times higher for those under 15 years.
Even though it has been known that rural girls are the most affected with teenage pregnancies, urban girls also face the problem. The only difference is that urban girls are able to terminate pregnancies through unsafe abortions which put their lives at risk. Twenty-five percent of maternal deaths in Uganda are due to unsafe abortion. The most common causes of teenage pregnancies are early initiation of sex, forced child marriage (common in rural areas), poverty, peer pressure, gender inequality, low self-esteem among girls, stigma from health workers especially at community level, and limited access to sexual and reproductive health services.
Yes, the levels are high but we can still bring them down using the following interventions. There is a need to expand and increase access to integrated adolescent friendly sexual and reproductive health services so young people can make informed decisions. Parents should take up the role and protect their children, support girl’s education and empowerment programs, sex education in schools, male involvement on issues of teenage pregnancies and strict laws on forced and early marriages.
To the young people, it is time we know our priorities and work to achieve those goals. Not all early marriages are forced. To the teenage mothers, we congratulate you on being able to have your babies but don’t despair; you can still achieve your goals, just need to rearrange your priorities. We have a huge role in improving maternal and child health and we can do this now.
We cannot have children being parents to children, “The world needs to be a better place for everyone. The action starts now: not when we are old”
Winfred Ongom is an Ugandan correspondent on Nutrition, Maternal and Child Health for Social Good Moms.
Photo: Jennifer James