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Updated: May 27, 2023


Monday

I try to catch up with my schoolwork before I head out, some computer key board symbols. My little one has been acting out because he knows I am going to leave him at his Jjajja’s. He throws tantrums refusing his meal and making a fit to bath. I finally console him by singing a lullaby. I want him to sleep. I have already lost 45 minutes into my computer lesson, so I literary must run. I leave him with my mother at her market stall just a stone throws away.

“Babirye, you are late,” mother gently rebukes me.

“I know. I don’t even know what that tutor will tell me.”

The baby stirs. I quickly dash to my afternoon class.


Tuesday

The computer lesson is a bit complicated. We are learning something about developing an excel database and we have all these graphs to draw. I am sharing a computer with a colleague who seems bent on not letting me touch it to practice. His bad breath and smelly armpits give me a bit of nausea. Thankfully he goes to sit with his colleague. My friend takes a seat next to me. I plan to save, buy a laptop; the model doesn’t matter. I don’t complain. I am only grateful to mother who is paying my tuition at the computer training centre. I am among the few girls who get this second chance at education.


Wednesday

I unfortunately miss computer school today because mother gets called away for an urgent land thing in their family. I have no one to leave my little one with. My four siblings are all at school. I must ensure the house is in order and that they have their meal when they get back. While sweeping the compound I reflect on that fatal choice that changed my life; when I decided that I was too young to conceive. Well, we had studied the conception process in biology, but I knew it would never happen to me. I still marvel at my ignorance of thinking that I could not get pregnant at the first time. Well, the persuasion from that cunning boy didn’t help either. The noise of motorcycle rushing into our compound awakes me from my thoughts. It is my father; I wonder what he wants seeing he prioritizes his second family. Without even letting me greet him, he goes into the house and picks a green card which I perceive to be his motorcycle logbook. I know that look, he is getting another loan. The baby is awake with his usual crying. Why did father have to come to interrupt his afternoon nap?


Thursday

It is about 8pm and we are having our supper. We are watching a hot local drama series on one of the popular TV stations. Our eyes are glued on the small 14-inch screen so much that our food starts getting cold. We pick our infamous habit of eating while watching TV from mother. She is the star. The scene of where a young girl is chased away from her home and is forced to marry a man after becoming pregnant hits a sore spot. We all have so much to say yet our lips are sealed. I was that young girl in the sight of my father. His reaction had been the same. Mother thought otherwise; the rift between her and father widened. We only see father occasionally; he prefers his other ‘perfect’ family.

“Hm, ah haa, some parents are quite something,” mother mutters beneath her breath.

Only I catch her statement.


Friday

I love Fridays. After computer school, I rush home to change into my dance clothes. We have a youth dance team in our neighborhood of about 35 members; quite a number I would say. No wonder no rehearsal goes by without conflict, but all is good. We are all growing in so many ways. Our mentor a gentle young lady is training us in interpretive dance. We will be participating in some campaign on education for girls at the district. I am doubly excited because the dance is developed around my story. Naturally I am the heroine. I know of some green eyes in the group, but I am too happy to care. I am in good shape, I can dance, I can act, I am going to share my story. May be a parent who watches this dance will give their daughter like me a chance to get an education.


Saturday

On my way to the market to help mother in her stall, I spot Kato busy chatting with the new girl in the neighborhood. I make a note to become his counsellor later. While having our evening snack-the famous jack fruit, I approach the subject.

“Kato, I saw you chatting with the new girl and your closeness was a bit uncomfortable.”

He is indifferent. He continues to eat his fruit throwing the seeds on the ground.

“You don’t want her to become like your sister now, would you?”

He holds my gaze. I am happy because I know I have gotten through to him. Afterall, he is my twin, and I can tell when he has got the point. I wish young males like him could have good role models to speak to them about sexual reproductive health issues. Maybe I wouldn’t be in this situation.


Sunday

It is time for church, again another best day in my life. As always baby is fussing but he won’t deter me from reaching in time. I go with two of my younger siblings. Mother goes with my other sibling. We attend different churches since I got a child. Mother is a deacon in her church and prudence led us to go to different congregations. Apparently, that boy’s father is the head deacon. The way his family treats me is a topic of another day. I just changed location for every one’s sake. Well, getting pregnant didn’t make me lose my faith. I still found love and care from those who didn’t cast the stone. It is time to get my dance shoes on; the choir is singing my favorite song.



Sanyu Centre for Arts and Rights

All rights reserved.

2023

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Position paper on school re-entry for child mothers, Uganda.

INTRODUCTION

Sanyu Centre for Arts and Rights (SARI) is cognizant of the efforts put in place by the Ministry of Education and Sports in reopening schools in a safe manner for all learners and the challenges associated with the young people who find themselves in the role of parenthood. These efforts are commendable on the part of Government as they seek not to leave anyone behind hence building of an integrated, self- sustaining and independent national economy. Uganda also made two international commitments which include the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Education For All goals (EFA). The SDGs 4, 5 and 10 are relevant to the Ministry of Education and Sports to ensure that by 2030 boys and girls are able to complete a full course of education and that gender disparities will be eliminated at all education levels by 2030.

The two-year shutdown of schools due to Covid-19 resulted in a surge in teen pregnancies across the country. According to UN Population Fund data, over 32,000 adolescent conceptions were documented on average per month in Uganda during the 2020-2021 lockdown. The surge in the number of teenage pregnancies caused social panic and also forecast doom for the majority of girls. With thousands of girls risking dropping out of school, the ministry of education and sports directed that pregnant and teenage mothers be allowed to return to school.

Currently we have an estimation of 350,000 child mothers who require different guidelines if they are to stay in school. We recognize that these categories need different supportive structures from all key stakeholders. Their different needs include physical, emotional, social, economic and spiritual needs.

As SARI, we view child parents as human beings who need to be loved nurtured and enabled to flourish as they define their space in society. We acknowledge that it is our collective responsibility to provide love and hope as well as safe space for these young mothers to go through difficult processes and seek second chances. We are convinced that reducing the high rate of teenage pregnancy and also retaining the teenage mothers in school is critical towards meeting the SDG 3, to “Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages”.

However, what we have not considered in our context is that beyond the positive language of getting the teenage mothers back to school are real issues facing girls in the different communities. The abuse, the teenage pregnancy, the erosion of confidence, the fear, the lack of resources to get back to school, the relegation to a house help as a young girl and most heart-wrenching, the stigmatization in the communities.

The other critical areas of challenge relate to the learners themselves; would they be de-swayed from the economic activities they are engaged in to concentrate on education! What kind of phyco-social support, material support to these needs? There are practical challenges that are being experienced; the anticipated psych-social support that these girls need which is not available to them in most communities.

Therefore, this position paper seeks to engage and advocate for realistic options that need to be explored given this reality. It is not enough to declare that the teenage mothers must go back to school, rather we must also invest in systems and structures that enable girls` holistic re-entry like protection against GBV, stigma and discrimination, provision of school uniforms and sanitary towels and scholarships to fund their education. We must invest in systems like community driven organizations which fill the gap between school, parents and governments.


ISSUES AND CONCERNS FOR SARI

Although sending such a category of learners back to school is a mileage, schools and the education system must be empowered if they are to support breastfeeding learners. There is need to provide a supportive community for these girls with protective structures that can enable them to thrive while in school. The following concerns need to be rethought for effectiveness of the reentry program.

1. Children are struggling to re-orient themselves back into schools hence socio-psycho needs and long-term education benefit need to be emphasised for their perseverance.

2. Currently, schools where the special group of girls is being sent, don’t have the capacity to handle them with a possibility that the girls might eventually drop out due to unfavorable conditions thus failing government intention of giving them a second chance. School owners have the challenge of providing adequate facilities for lactating mothers

3. Parents have an increased burden in terms of fees and taking care of unplanned, undesired and unsupported grandchildren, living with stigma in cases where incest is involved.

4. SARI is concerned with Parents that force these child mothers into child labor yet there is an opportunity for them to return to school.

5. Some of the parents have been noted marrying off these young girls instead of helping them to return to school. This has led to early and forced marriages amongst teenage mothers hence denying their rights to education

6. At community level, there is a lot of stigma and discrimination which is also perpetuated by the community beliefs and values where a girl who gives birth should not return to school since they considered at “bad omen” to the family.

7. The way social media portrays the images of these girls that return to school with children is baffling hence this needs to be addressed programmatically.

8. Whereas the ministry of education urged schools to prepare for the re-entry of teenage mothers, the budgetary allocation to effect this decision left a lot to be desired. This is coupled with the need to make new guidelines that are flexible to cater for their new breastfeeding roles even within school.


PROPOSED ACTIONS FOR THE DIFFERENT STAKEHOLDERS

There is need for active involvement of the institutions of nurture which include family, schools, community, faith institutions, CSOs and Government. These have a different role to play in keeping these girls in school thereby enhancing their rights to write.

Parents and guardians: These have a role of rehabilitating the girls whose rights have been violated hence the need for psychosocial support to enable the girls overcome the trauma they went through. Parents ought to create a supportive environment for children that have found themselves in parenthood. They should seek support and accompaniment from relatives, neighbours and professional bodies.

Parents that engage these girls in child labor instead of helping them to return to should be apprehended. The same goes for parents that engage these girls in child marriage. These redress measures/punishments should be made public such that they don’t reoccur in our communities.

Teachers: There is a need to retool the senior teachers in schools on how they can care for the group of learners in question. The teachers are supposed to change their approach towards them to offer them psycho-social support with a supportive classroom environment.

Schools: There is need to cater for their unique needs as children that have children and need to look at their needs at individual level since some of the girls have to breastfeed as at different intervals yet the school system requires them to stay in school from 8am to 5pm.

Faith Institutions: There is need to intensify the acts of love instead of castigation and looking at these young girls as sinners. Their moral and spiritual support is imperative for their growth.

Community level: There is need for supportive community without stigmatization and a conducive home environment that enables the girls to tap into the opportunity to return to school

Social media: There is need for a supportive social media campaign that encourages these girls to return to school instead of dehumanizing them.

Government: SARI calls upon the government to rework the school guidelines such that there is flexibility for the school going mothers. Some of these girls cannot keep in school the whole day since they have to continue with breastfeeding up to 2 years as recommended by the Ministry of health. Government also should support the parents who are taking care of the child mothers as well as their grandchildren with increased Income Generating Activities (IGA) so as to enable them foot the economic needs.


CONCLUSION

We need joint efforts if these teenage mothers are to return and be retained in school. We therefore call upon all stakeholders to avail the necessary amenities to the issues that are affecting these teenage mothers who got the courage to return to school. There is need to offer them all the moral and financial support to cater for their needs holistically.

Sanyu Centre for Arts and Rights has developed this position paper with the support of the African Women's Development Fund (AWDF) under the My Write is My Right! project.


Sanyu Centre for Arts and Rights.

209 views3 comments

It is a busy evening and customers are surrounding her stall

She must quickly serve them fried potato chips and eggs

They are impatient and demand that she speeds up

The crying baby makes it none the easier

Torn between the agitated infant and the edgy customers

She chooses the latter for ends must meet

She endures some choice words from the customers

Nevertheless, with a smile she serves them

At midnight she packs to go back home

Where is the father of her baby?

Where is he?


She can’t bring her eyes to look across the table

When her aunty asks her who the father of her baby is

Though the older woman threatens to chase her away from home

She is more scared of saying her uncle’s name

After all, when she tried to tell her aunty earlier on

She was never believed that uncle was abusing her sexually

How can she then tell her aunty who is her benefactress?

That her husband is responsible

Though he is seated across the table

Where is the father of her baby?

Where is he?


The mother packs lunch and juice for her daughter take to school

The daughter runs off leaving a screaming infant in her mother’s arms

Such are most of her mornings

She will forever be grateful to her mother

For taking care of her baby while she returns to school

Working in a market with an infant is not an easy task

Not many of the girls in her position have such help

She vows to repay her mother’s kindness and support

By getting good, no, excellent grades at school

She must pass highly and make it for government sponsorship

As she heads to school, she asks herself

Where is the father of her baby?

Where is he?


We see him every day going about his business

We talk to him, share meals with him and have a good laugh

He is the father, the brother, the loving husband, that trusted uncle, our friend who cracks jokes, a classmate

He is that powerful benevolent leader who donates to worthy causes in our community

Some of us know what he is doing but we chose to bury our heads in the sand

We see the girls whose education has ended

We see girls with life changing health consequences

We see fatherless children and young mothers struggling through life

If only we listen, protect, and help when she cries out

If only he makes a choice to hold her in high regard

We would not be asking ourselves

Where is the father of her baby?

Where is he?



Sanyu Centre for Arts and Rights

2023

277 views1 comment
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