The speaker of Parliament declared on Nyege Nyege: “We are talking about morality of this country; we are talking about our children. You are trying to promote tourism at the expense of our children? We are not going to allow this function to take place’.
Events have since moved on and the festival has gone ahead, but what drew my attention to the debate was the reference to our children and morality. The definition of morality from the Oxford English Dictionary is ‘Principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behaviour’. In Uganda when morality or immorality is mentioned the definition is often limited to sexuality rather than the broader definition of morality – which is about what is right or wrong. In this case it seems that the Speaker was concerned with protecting Ugandan children from bad influences that would affect their sexuality. This is commendable, but in light of the fact that Parliament took time to debate this issue, what is Parliament doing to protect children from other types of immoral behavior that befall them?
One basic way we can protect children is to ensure that they have the opportunity to go to school and get an education that informs them about life and prepares them for the future, so how are we progressing on that? During the Covid pandemic Uganda had the second longest school closure in the world with fifteen million pupils being out of school from March 2020 until January 2022.
Child rights groups highlighted that many children were then unable to return to education having begun working to support their families, and that there was a sharp increase in teenage pregnancies.
The government introduced Universal Primary Education in 1997. However, the allocation per capita in 2019 was 14,000 shillings, while the recommended amount by our own National Planning Authority is 59,000 shillings, so we are allocating 25% of the necessary budget. Uganda’s education budget stands at 11.2 percent, which has been static or declining for years. Uganda’s population growth rate over this period has been 3.2% with over one million new children entering the school age population per year. How does a static education budget cater for such a dynamic situation? What Parliamentary time is the Speaker allocating to this issue?
According to statistics from the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, 25% of teenagers normally give birth by the age of 18, and we have a maternal mortality rate of 336 per 100,000 live births (down from over 400) with 17% of those deaths among girls aged 15 – 19 years of age. This adds up to around 700 teenage girls dying in childbirth each year. The number of teenage pregnancies spiked during Covid so there were even more deaths.
Teenage pregnancy is a serious problem in Uganda that is putting the lives of young girls in danger, but it does not seem to be high on the agenda of Parliament. One can ask is it right or moral for teenage girls to be out of school, to be uneducated and sold off as child brides? The Speaker wanted to take strong action on Nyege Nyege; where is the strong action on girls’ education, teenage pregnancy and child brides?
In the 2020 Uganda population based HIV impact assessment young girls were found to be three times more likely to get HIV than young men of their own age, but what are we doing to prevent this? Basic education on the facts of life – the biology of reproduction, the means by which HIV and STDs are spread, can prevent young people falling pregnant or getting HIV, but how has this been prioritized? Rather than ensuring that reproductive health has been taught at all, schools that have tried to teach sex education have been demonized by both the Church of Uganda and Parliament, with the result that schools are afraid to broach the subject at all. Not dealing with sex education simply results in more teenage pregnancies, more deaths of girls in childbirth and more girls getting HIV.
The desire to protect children from harmful influences is good, but we must protect them from all the harmful influences they face, not just the perceived immorality of a music festival. It is about morality; as the speaker put it so well: ‘We are talking about morality, we are talking about our children.’ So let us do what is morally right to prepare and protect children from all the threats they face.
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