Teenage pregnancy still a big challenge

Teenage pregnancy still a big challenge
Sexual education and life skills training are key to addressing the current sexual and reproductive health challenges for young people in Uganda

The current trend of children engaging in sexual activities is a challenge to promoting sexual and reproductive health for young people. This trend has contributed to premature motherhood. The teenage pregnancy rate, currently estimated at 25% for Uganda, is a reflection of this trend.

The effects of teenage pregnancy are well known. Currently, over 27% of mothers who die annually in Uganda due to pregnancy and birth related complications are teenagers. This encapsulates the current poor maternal mortality indicator estimated at 435/100,000. The trend also presents a dire public health challenge for the country.

No country in the world has developed with a quarter of her population giving birth before their twentieth birthday.

Teenage pregnancy is a compounding problem because it contributes to child malnutrition, child neglect, school drop outs, new HIV infections, a high population among others.

In the midst of all these, one observable feature is that teenage pregnancy and premature motherhood is directly linked to poor child upbringing. Children these days hardly receive guidance and direction from their parents.

It is not uncommon these days to hear people, including parents, decry moral degeneration in society especially among young people. Yet, most parents today, educated or not, can hardly spare a minute to discuss issues of sexuality with their children and provide guidance and direction. Some parents are either ignorant, fearful to talk about sex, or too busy to talk to their children.

In some communities parents are the direct drivers of teenage pregnancies by coercing children into early marriages, turning children, especially girls, breadwinners in homes. Through UNFPA funded teenage pregnancy campaigns I participated in last year in eastern Uganda, I came to learn from the girls that some parents often ask their daughters to bring items like sugar whenever they are coming from school.

We need to acknowledge that times have changed, and continue to change. In the past, children learnt values and received protection from the community. The traditional system is breaking down where children learnt a few things about sexuality from their sengas.

The traditional roles of sengas and kojjas, for the case of Buganda, have all disappeared. These days, the community preys on the children instead of protecting and guiding the children. Children are left to information technology where exposure to, often times illicit, material on internet, TVs, magazines and newspapers leaves them vulnerable to exploitation.


Young people, and adolescents in particular, remain vulnerable for obvious reasons that they experience a number of challenges including body changes; sexual feelings and attraction to the opposite sex; frequent erections; menstruation.

They also have myths and misconceptions about sex and growing up. For the last six years I have worked with young people, I have noted that myths common among young people include beliefs that; sex cures menstrual cramps; a girl cannot become pregnant if she jumps immediately after unprotected sexual intercourse; playing sex while standing prevents pregnancy; drinking herbs after sex prevents pregnancy; semen widens girls� hips.

You can understand that at this stage, young people are experimenting and exploring with the world and their bodies. All they need is education about these changes. The introduction of programs like Ekisaakaate by the Nnabagereka Foundation appear to be a much awaited solution. Notable organizations like Straight Talk Foundation, Naguru Teenage Center, World Vision, Plan Uganda are also doing a tremendous job providing youth friendly services, spreading sexual and reproductive health information among young people.   

Although these are commendable programs reaching out to the young people, I would like to recommend that any intervention aimed at addressing teenage pregnancy should place emphasis on key protective factors; comprehensive sexuality education; and life skills education for young people.

Young people need to learn skills such as assertiveness, self-esteem, self-awareness, critical and creative thinking, effective communication, friendship formation among others, which should be core to the young generation.

This is because, these are skills that are essential for managing sexuality related challenges already mentioned above.

Imparting life skills and sexuality education should be a concerted effort involving all stakeholders including the different government ministries, NGOs, religious institutions, school management committees, and local leaders.

The current School Health Policy should be implemented to guide life skills training in schools. We cannot relax because after every 10 years we have a new generation of young people who are experiencing their body changes for the first time.

The writer is a project officer with Straight Talk Foundation Uganda


Independent mini studies

Undertaking independent mini-studies to help identify research or training needs on given land aspects, or action may be initiated for the attention of the concerned stakeholders for possible interventions

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