Teenage pregnancy is one of the catastrophic effects that cut short girls’ dreams and opportunities to realise a bright future through education.
In most cases however, men who make these girls pregnant always get away with it, or run away from responsibilities including a risk of facing imprisonment.
In Uganda, a number of pregnant girls are denied a chance to resume their studies and even after they are done with school, their parents or guardians judge them harshly.
Girls are left to suffer alone with their pregnancies and once they deliver, their babies also face consequences such as negligence.
The 2016 Uganda Demographic and Health Survey indicates that 25 per cent of the adolescent girls and young women aged 15-19 in Uganda are pregnant or mothers, which is one of the highest teenage rates in sub-Saharan Africa. The rise in early child-bearing is attributed to low education attainment.
However, in the recent research findings released by Twaweza, almost all citizens (94 per cent) wanted girls who get pregnant to continue with their education whether after giving birth (74 per cent), during pregnancy (13 per cent), or in another school (seven per cent).
The research brief titled “Preparing the Next Generation: Ugandans’ opinions and experiences on education” was based on data from Sauti za Wananchi, Africa’s first nationally representative high-frequency mobile phone survey. The data was collected from 1,878 respondents across Uganda in September and October 2018.
Nevertheless, the need appears to be almost insurmountable because four out of 10 citizens (35 per cent) know of a family member who dropped out of school due to pregnancy. Among these, half are now housewives (51 per cent), 14 per cent are unemployed and only 12 per cent are back in school.
Watchdog Uganda traced down some of the mothers who managed to beat the odds to go back to school and becoming successful after passing through the ordeal.
Madina Namanda: He denied he was the father of our daughter
Madina Namanda, a 32-year-old resident of Masajja division, Makindye Ssabagabo Municipality in Wakiso says she had her first born in 2002 while in Senior Two.
“I got pregnant when I was around 15-16 years old. By that time, I was staying with my auntie in Gganda, Nansana and when she realized that I had messed up, she immediately transported me back to my father’s home in Nyendo, Masaka. She threatened to take the responsible man to prison. He was staying a few meters away from her place,” Namanda recalls.
“My dream of becoming a nurse was completely shuttered since I had to drop out of school. Life became too hard and on top of that I was always being pressured by my father to leave his home saying that he couldn’t stay with a person who was old enough to start her own family,” she adds.
Namanda further says having passed through all forms of mistreatment from some of her family members such as her step mother; she was forced to go back to Nansana to see whether she can get redress from the man responsible for the pregnancy.
“I had spent like three months in the village and by the time I realized that I should look for Stanley (surname left out because we didn’t seek his consent) it was too late because he had already shifted in fear of the end results.”
Fortunately, she knew one of his friends who was also staying in the same neighborhood. He helped her locate Stanley who was in his late 20s.
During the meeting, Namanda says Stanley who openly revealed that he was not interested in taking her for a wife, pledged to only financially support her through the pregnancy.
“I went back to the village and this time not at my father’s home. I went and stayed with my elder sister who lived in Kyotera (southern Uganda town) until I gave birth to a baby girl. If it was not for my sister, I don’t know how I would have survived; she helped me a lot and I will forever be grateful to her.
Namanda says, “Stanley failed to fulfill his promise and that’s when I decided to completely cut off communication with him.”
As a saying goes ‘Winners never quit and quitters never win’, despite of her tribulation, Namanda kept her dream of going back to school.
“In the late 2003 when my daughter had just made one year, I reconciled with my father. Since I wanted to go back to school badly, I requested him if he could still pay for me fees and his response was positive.”
In 2004, Namanda got another school in Kyotera. She resumed from senior two since she had not completed it by the time she got pregnant.
“My sister used to remain with my baby whenever I went to school,” she recounts.
Namanda says she successfully finished her Senior Four and since her father was not well off, they decided that instead of continuing with A’ level, she should join a vocational Institute.
“Though I did not become a nurse as I wanted, in 2008, I graduated with a certificate in Catering and Hotel Management,” she reveals.
After studies, Namanda says she left her daughter with her sister and she came to Kampala to start a new life. She got a job with one of the city restaurants.
“I worked in that restaurant for two years and in 2011 I got married,” she narrates.
Now, Namanda works as a manager at her husband’s hardware in Nakasero and the couple has two children together.
Her daughter is now 16-years-old, she attends one of the best secondary schools in Wakiso, where Namanda pays Shs850,000 per term.
Martha Namugerwa: He wanted me to be a second wife, my mother forced me to marry him
Martha Namugerwa, 25 is also among those young women who underwent trauma resulting from getting pregnant while still in school.
She got pregnant in 2010 during her Senior Four vacation. She was 16-years-old.
“My parent (single mother) was not happy with me, she reached an extent of wanting to send me packing from her home in Makindye but my elder siblings calmed her down and she forgave me. I gave birth under her care in 2011,” she narrates, apologetically.
Unlike many girls who are abandoned by the men responsible, Namugerwa’s boyfriend was very supportive and remained in love with her.
“When I gave birth, he proposed to marry me but unfortunately he was already a married man. I turned down the request because I couldn’t be a second wife at my tender age.”
However, though Namugerwa declined the marriage proposal, her mother was pestering her to get married. Time came when she had to give in.
“I got married (cohabiting) because my mother had forced me to and the man had promised to take me back to school but sincerely my love for him had vanished the day I found out that he had a wife. I got to know about it from one of my friends when I was pregnant.
“He loved us (my daughter and I), treated us well. He took me back to school in 2012. I did a certificate in Journalism then after I went for a Diploma still in Journalism. I graduated in 2015,” Namugerwa recounts, adding that since she never loved him, after school she decided to move on.
“In 2016, I parted ways with my husband. It was painful on his side but we kept in contact because of our daughter. Though I was no longer with him he used to meet most of our expenses like food and rent,” says Namugerwa who later got a job at one of the local media houses as a reporter. She worked for over five months before she resigned.
“Naturally I never wanted to be an employee of anyone so after realising that I could start my own business with the little savings I had, I decided to open up a cosmetics shop in Mukono and right now I am really thriving.”
Namugerwa’s daughter is now seven years old and in Primary Two. However, her daughter is currently staying with her grandmother in Makindye.
Grace Nagayi: My father stopped talking to me
Grace Nagayi’s ordeal is not far different from that of most girls who get pregnant while still in school.
She got pregnant at 16 years of age when she was in Senior Three.
The boy responsible was a classmate who couldn’t support her in any way possible simply because he was also dependent on his parents.
She says her parents were so disappointed and her father spent almost two months without talking to her.
“Despite being financially unstable and living in a rented double roomed house, my parents never sent away. Of course, they were angry but accepted to stay with me.”
Nagayi says she always regretted for having committed such a grave offence and when her pregnancy was five months, her boyfriend advised her to abort the baby but she refused.
She gave birth to a baby boy in 2009.
Luckily enough her mother with little support from her father sent her back to school.
She successfully sat her Senior Four in 2011 and later advanced to A’ level. In 2013 she completed Senior Six.
However, her parents went short of school fees so she never proceeded to any higher institution of learning.
“After Form Six, I looked for jobs but in vain. In 2015 through the help of a relative I went to United Arabs Emirates (UAE ) on a two month visit visa. I used that period to try my luck of getting a job abroad and thank God I got it.”
Nagayi says she got a two-year contract with Nike shop and it was paying well.
“Since I knew what I went through I used to work wholeheartedly and saved my money on my bank account back home.”
When she came back in early 2017, she was able to buy a piece of land in Namasuba Kikajjo where she set up rentals.
Nagayi also has a wholesale shop in Namasuba, which employs two people.
Her son is joining Primary Four and she stays with him at her home in Namasuba.
Lessons picked from experience
I would never wish any girl child to experience what I passed through. It was so terrible and in case the mistake is done I advise parents not be very harsh to the victims because mistakes are done by humans and every person on earth deserves a second chance. I always talk to my daughter about protecting herself.
Advice to Uganda’s education policy makers;
My humble plea to the policy makers is that they should set up schools offering free education for young mothers especially for those who wish to continue with their education but have no capacity. With that young mothers will be able to achieve their education dreams.
Getting pregnant while still in school is the worst mistake I have ever done in this world and I pray that no school going girl makes such a mistake. Thank God I overcame it but it was too bad. That’s the time you get neglected by everyone including your family members. It was hell on earth. But one thing I learnt is that young girls don’t get pregnant because they want. Most times its excitement, yearning to experience new things and temptations from men or boys and by the end of the day they end up falling victims.
Advice to Uganda’s education policy makers;
Some schools punish girls that get pregnant by expelling them but me what I think is that education policy makers should pass a law that lets girls especially those in candidate classes sit for their final exams irrespective of their current condition. I always see news when girls are refused to sit for their exams simply because they are pregnant.
I always talk to young girls in my area especially those I see close to boys or men. I tell them about the dangers they are likely to face when they get pregnant. I don’t know whether they take my advice but I try to do my part because I don’t want them to undergo the same experience I went through.
Advice to Uganda’s education policy makers;
What I would like to tell the education policy makers is simple; they should put up strict laws that force culprits to financially support their victims and take them back to school after giving birth.
This article has been supported by Twaweza, a civil society organization working to enable children to learn, citizens to exercise agency and governments to be more open and responsive in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda.
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