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Seventeen year old Ninsiima carries her two month baby on the back as she goes to the stone quarry in Mende village to make a living. Together with her eighteen year old cousin Catherine who is a mother of eleven month’s baby, the two young mothers set off to work. They may never get an opportunity to go back to school because they not only fear the stigma, bullying and unkind words they may face at school and community but now they also have to take care of their children. When asked about their dreams are, they hesitate to respond because it seems so farfetched.

Ninsiima and Catherine together with their caretaker working in a stone quarry in Mende.

Currently, teenage pregnancy (pregnancy in girls below the age of 19 years) remains a great challenge in Uganda especially for school retention. Pregnancy is one of the main causes of girls dropping out of school. This is not helped by the fact that many teenagers have limited or no knowledge about family planning until they became pregnant. Moreover like Reverend Peter says, many there is also a general realisation that teenage pregnancy is largely accidental as girls are often victims of rape, defilement and other coercive acts to lure them into early sex.

Whereas in recent years, Uganda has taken bolder steps to protect the right to education of pregnant students and adolescent mothers, Covid19 exacerbated the challenge due to prolonged school closures, lack of protective communities, inaccessibility to sexual and reproductive health services, and lack of remote learning opportunities during the pandemic.

A recent report by UNFPA warned that if no action is taken to ensure these girls stay in school, 60% of teenage mothers will end up in peasant agriculture and annually more than Shs645 billion will be spent by Government on healthcare for teen mothers and education of their children.

In some studies on re-entry of adolescent girls to school, majority of teachers and students are against retention of pregnant girls in school but support the option of reentry of girls into school after giving birth. It is true that showed that adolescent mothers encounter “ridicule and discriminatory language” from both teachers and other students when they return to school. Further, the way schools manage teenage pregnancy varies from school to school with little (if any) oversight. Most schools expel pregnant girls; however this is on moralistic ground and not backed by any government policy, guideline or directive.

According to the ministry of education and sports (MOES), the Ridicule or scorn or discrimination of pregnant girls is considered a form of psychological and emotional violence. Thus, like other forms of Violence against children in schools shall be tracked and resolved using the RTRR (Reporting, Tracking, Referral and Response) guidelines. The School under the leadership of the head teacher is called upon take measures to build its capacity to report and track violence against pregnant girls by fellow learners, teachers and other school staff.

Nonetheless, many affected adolescents are willing to continue with schooling till they complete the school cycle or even attain their excepted academic qualifications. Bearing on the principle of the right to education, the schools have to support these adolescents optimally till they complete the school cycles.

The MOES guidelines “When a girl is discovered to be pregnant, she shall be counseled, and the guidelines for retention or continuation at school and re-entry after pregnancy shall be discussed. The head teacher and other teachers shall work with parents to ensure that there is family support/social support for the pregnant girl.”

School reentry also finds many caretakers with mixed feelings. Whereas some like Jackie’s mother would love to take her daughter back to school, others would rather they get married off to the men who impregnated them.

Like IIhan Ozturk says, education is a powerful driver for development. No society can achieve social-economic growth without investing in the education of its people. It improves the quality of their lives and leads to broad social benefits to individuals and society.

The Taking back my Pen! campaign supported by Urgent Action Fund-Africa is empowering girls with knowledge of their right to education while engaging duty bearers and service providers that girls in our community have equal opportunity to go back to school. SARI is empowering a girls-led grassroots movement to enable girls participate in advocating for fair opportunities in education, youth livelihood initiatives and prevention to gender based violence. SARI also has also engaged relevant stakeholders including community development services offices, village and political leaders, caregivers to enable girls thrive in the community. Through these efforts, we have seen three girls being take back to school and ‘taking back their pen!

SARI team member conducting a rights awareness session among teenage mothers in Sebbi village

Sanyu Centre for Arts and Rights


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Teenage mothers during a life skills training in Kakiri, Wakiso district.



Girls face specific forms of discrimination in accessing education, within education systems, and through education. This is even worse when it comes to pregnant and teenage mothers. Each of these obstacles is underpinned by harmful gender stereotypes about the role of women and men in society. Gender inequality and discrimination to, in, and through education are experienced in varying forms and at all levels by girls, depending on their personal, local, and national context.

Ideally, education systems should be focal points for action to combat gender stereotypes and gender stereotyping. These deeply rooted gender biases affect pregnant and breastfeeding girls before they step into a classroom and may even prevent girls from going back to school. Perhaps one of the most significant barriers to an inclusive and quality learning environment is the culture of bullying which further deters these pregnant girls and breastfeeding mothers from “taking back their pens”.

Investing in girls’ education transforms communities, countries, and the entire world. Girls who receive an education are less likely to marry young and more likely to lead healthy, productive lives. They earn higher incomes, participate in the decisions that most affect them, and build better futures for themselves and their families. Girls’ education strengthens economies and reduces inequality. It contributes to more stable, resilient societies that give all individuals – including boys and men – the opportunity to fulfill their potential. The study by UNICEF showed that when we invest in Girls’ secondary education, the lifetime earnings of girls dramatically increase, National growth rates rise, Child marriage rates decline, Child mortality rates fall, Maternal mortality rates fall, Child stunting drops.

But education for girls is about more than access to school. It’s also about these pregnant and adolescent girls feeling safe in classrooms with a supportive environment. This then requires more than guidelines but rather a commitment from all key stakeholders to refocus their energies into sustaining and retaining these girls in schools.

The international community has recognized the equal right to quality education of everyone and is committed to achieving gender equality in all fields, including education, through their acceptance of international human rights law. This means that states have legal obligations to remove all discriminatory barriers, whether they exist in law or everyday life, and to undertake positive measures to bring about equality, including in access to, within, and through education.

The right to education based on non-discrimination and equality is a recognised right under Article 1 of the Uganda Constitution. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has issued an authoritative interpretation of Article 10 in General Recommendation 36 on girls’ and women’s right to education, which elaborates the legal obligations of states under CEDAW to eradicate the discriminatory barriers preventing girls from enjoying their right to education and implement measures to bring about equality in practice, and makes concrete and actionable legal and policy recommendations which would bring states into compliance.


SARI appreciates the relentless efforts by the Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES) for developing guidelines aimed at supporting the education of the girl child. These guidelines have helped to ensure that pregnant/teenage girls and adolescent mothers keep their rights and are given another opportunity to continue with their education.

However, as SARI, we have noted with concern the level of preparedness at all levels to adopt and operationalize the guidelines in a school setting. We, therefore, have the following concerns:

1. Most of the schools in Uganda are poorly equipped, unskilled and understaffed to meet the physical, intellectual, and emotional needs of pregnant girls in a school setting. Our schools are uniquely confronted by this challenge of how to address and accommodate pregnant girls and young mothers in school.

2. Being pregnant and having a child are major life events. For an adolescent girl, experiencing these events while still at school often means facing harsh social sanctions and difficult choices that have life-long consequences. They are likely to be shamed and stigmatized by family, community members, and peers.

3. In our social-cultural context, stigma about teenage pregnancy and harmful social norms about pregnancy outside marriage is still strong. This is likely to lead to exclusion of both the mother and child. Consequently, parents and families of pregnant daughters are likely to discourage them from returning to school to protect their reputation and limit their exposure to stigma from their peers and teachers

4. With new caregiving responsibilities, child mothers need additional childcare support if they are to return to school, hence the need to assess the level of preparedness both at the family level and also at the institutional level.

5. Teenage pregnancy carries extremely high health risks. We are concerned about the schools’ preparedness to handle pregnancy-related emergencies should they arise

6. Pregnant girls and adolescent mothers may stay in school but frequently disengage with learning and go unnoticed by teachers. Students opting out of learning and withdrawing can still attend school but may suffer from anxiety and depression if psycho-social support is not provided.


1. The Ministry of Education and Sports as well as the district bodies should broaden its consultations and involve the key stakeholders especially teachers, parents, religious and cultural leaders, school owners.

2. We recommend that our school re-entry guidelines be linked with child care services to encourage girls being re-admitted to rejoin school and address child care and nutritional needs for their children

3. We further recommend more investment in the school structures that can help these adolescent and pregnant mothers to cope while in school since they need maximum support.

4. We also propose accelerated learning programmes, or catch-up classes for adolescent mothers, who may have been out of school before and after delivery, so that they may regain the same level of education as their peers and not fall behind. This calls for flexible learning arrangements, such as the option to attend morning or evening classes to help young mothers who are unable to return full-time.

5. Strengthen our referral systems to ensure that our adolescents and youth interact more effectively with sexual and reproductive health professionals, counselors, and religious leaders.

6. There is a need to establish alternative education programmes for drop-outs who wish to pursue primary and secondary education and feel uncomfortable rejoining school or adult classes. Designated centers where such education is offered should be established at the Sub-county level.

7. Finally, given our context and the above challenges, we call upon all the key stakeholders including parents, teachers, community leaders, and district officials to stop the condemnation and rather offer the necessary support to ensure that these girls “take back their pen”.


The power is in the hands of the duty bearers namely the school heads, education department officials, ministry of gender, labour and social development, religious leaders, and parents who are responsible for providing for the right to education. We appreciate the efforts by the Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES) in developing the guidelines given the current challenges facing Uganda’s young population. With these concerns, we call upon the government and other key stakeholders to ensure that there is a conducive environment for these child mothers and pregnant adolescents. This means that states have an obligation to take deliberate, concrete, and targeted steps, accordingly to maximum available resources, to move expeditiously and effectively towards the full realisation of the right to education.

Sanyu Centre for Arts and Rights has developed this position paper in solidarity with Urgent Action Fund- Africa.


© 2022

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“Becoming more self-aware through vocational arts and life skills has set on my leadership journey and I believe that I will make a positive impact in my community especially among my fellow girls and youth.” Angella

Angella holding her Angie bag made out of thread.

Our month spotlight is on 20 year old Angella young energetic leader of the Girls’ Creative Hands group in her community, Erisa zone. Angella also stood for the post of vice chairperson of her school faculty at Makerere University Kampala and she won. She was also elected as deputy gender officer. She attributes her confidence to the life skills trainings she got from SARI life skills programs.

Like many of her fellows, Angella was negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic as she had to pause her studies yet her personal financial, emotional and physical needs were growing. The extended lock-downs, limited movements and interaction with her peers left her lonely and anxious; she badly needed a safe space where she could share her thoughts with her friends.

Angella started participating in SARI COVID-19 recovery and resilience activities in the community through joining a training where girls and youth were being trained in crafts as well as cloth designing. She also participated in the trainings in life skills, entrepreneurship and leadership. Furthermore the participants were trained in savings mobilization where they formed groups through which they would save. They also planned to have their groups legally registered at the local council offices to ensure their longevity and also be part of other community initiatives. Angella and her team formed the Girls’ Creative Hands which has 14 members. These make different hand crafts such as door mats, bags, money purses, clothes and many other decorative items.

Angella reports that the training that changed her mind-set and improved her the most was the life skills, entrepreneurship and leadership development. The knowledge and skills acquired empowered her to lead the formation the Girls’ Creative Hands. She and her team members are able to sell the products which enables them to meet their basic needs. The Girls’ Creative Hands is also a safe space where Angella and her fellow girls share different issues to improve their lives and community.

She is a girl striding forward!

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