Kamuli: Jane, who is 16 years old, had commenced her first term in Senior One at a school in Kamuli District when her relative allegedly defiled her early this year.
Jane’s uncle, a senior police detective whose identity we cannot reveal for legal reasons, picked the victim from her grandmother’s home to help him with house chores barely after his wife who is a police officer was transferred to Kampala.
“Before we went home, he took me to Mzuri Bar, in Kamuli town. He said he was going to buy our supper. He left me in the car and went to the bar. Later, he came back with a glass of soda and told me to drink it. It smelt like alcohol, and I told him so. He said it was a new soda on the market. After I drank the soda, I lost consciousness. When I woke up the next morning, I had been defiled. He told me not to tell anyone what had transpired because I might jeopardise his job and his marriage,” Jane narrates.
She is now five months pregnant. In a travesty of justice, her uncle, a law enforcement officer who is supposed to be part of the law enforcement system’s vanguard attuned to the juridical probe meant to gather cogent evidence that can lead to a conviction—instead is accused of using his high-profile position to block the investigation.
“He called my grandmother and told her that we should have a family meeting to resolve the issue. After the meeting, they did not come up with a solution and they decided that I should bathe in herbs. If it were true that my uncle had defiled me, then the herbs would summon the spirits to kill him. If I had lied, then the spirits would kill me. I just walked away,” Jane says.
Jane’s father and uncle did not receive any help from Kamuli Police Station. They then travelled to Kampala and recorded a case at the Directorate of Criminal Investigations and the Uganda Police Professional Standards Unit. However, these offices are yet to respond.
Instead, Michael Kasadha, the Busoga North Regional Police spokesperson, says the police are going to arrest Jane’s father, who is the complainant.
“We investigated the suspect and he was given police bond. At this point, it is now the complainant failing us because he complained to Kampala against everyone here, including the Regional Police Commander. The girl should be brought back for examination and scanning, which the complainant has not complied with. Now, a decision has been made to arrest these people [Jane’s father and uncle],” he says.
Kamuli, an impoverished sugar-cane growing belt in the Busoga sub-region, was ranked fourth among districts with the highest prevalence of teenage pregnancies behind Wakiso, Kampala and Kasese.
Statistics from the district health office show that in the 2020/2021 Financial Year, a total of 6,523 girls between the ages of 15 and 19 attended their first antenatal visit. From July 2022 to March 2023, a total of 4,493 girls attended their first antenatal visit.
A number of societal and patriarchal biases are associated with the prevalence of teenage pregnancies across the country.
Dr James Waako, the district health officer for Kamuli, says the biggest driver is cultural norms, where the transition from childhood to adulthood includes marriage and giving birth.
“In some communities, if a girl reaches a certain age, and her peers are already married, she will be compelled to find a husband. Her parents may say she is in school but her body shape has changed. If they don’t have the money to cater for her basic needs, they will trade her off for money,” he says.
In this case, Irene, a 16-year-old girl in Mayuge district is eight months pregnant. She dropped out of school three years ago due to lack of school fees. Last year, she began dating an itinerant worker. However, when Irene conceived, her boyfriend abandoned her. It was only then that she realised he had concealed his identity and name. He also switched off his mobile number and disappeared.
“He seduced me with money and promised to marry me. I fell in love with him. But, now, he has abandoned me. My parents told me to abort the pregnancy because I know nothing about the man. However, I want to give birth to this baby because the midwife told me I could die while attempting to abort the baby,” she says.
Irene’s parents suspect that her boyfriend infected her with HIV. However, Irene denies this, although she admits that she contracted a sexually transmitted infection (STI) she does not disclose.
“The medical workers performed some tests after I told them I wanted to abort the pregnancy. They told me I had diabetes and an STI. The diabetes is hereditary but that man infected me with the STI. I am now on medication,” she says.
Several policy documents are indicative of the nexus between poverty, teenage pregnancies and exposure to risky sexual behaviour, because a number of rural families are unable to keep girls in school. According to the Uganda Health Demographic Survey, 2016, 35 percent of girls aged 15 and 19 years with no education have already had a baby, compared to 11 percent of girls who have more than secondary education.
“The poverty index is very high in our region. Taxi drivers, boda boda riders, and sugarcane outgrowers are getting money on a daily basis. The outgrowers ferry labourers into the region and pay them to work in their gardens. These people spend that money in the communities where they live. Some of them end up engaging these adolescent girls,” Dr Waako says.
He adds that poor townships, which have sprouted across urban centres, increase the vulnerability of girls.
“Large families – parents and children – are residing in one room. So, when the parents begin engaging in the social aspects of life at night, the children are listening and some can see what is happening. Eventually, they will want to experiment with what they have seen. When someone with money entices them, they will fall prey. We try to engage these families in community dialogues, but the issue is, can you construct a bigger house for them, anyway?” he says.
While the coronavirus, which barrelled across the country in March 2020, necessitating closure of schools for nearly two years, compounded the problem, for long spells, Uganda has had one of the highest teenage pregnancy incidences in sub-Saharan Africa. Globally, the country ranks 16th among countries with the highest rates of child marriages and teenage pregnancies.
A 2020 survey by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) on violence revealed that over the last 45 years, more than half of the girls have experienced childhood sexual abuse, which may also explain the unchanging level of teenage pregnancy in the country.
The inefficiencies and complicity in solving sex-related crimes is the main institutional driver of teenage pregnancy. Kasadha says cases of defilement are the highest reported criminal cases in the region.
“So far this year, we have recorded 207 cases of defilement, but we believe there are many more than that number which have not been reported to the police. Of the 207 cases, we have only taken 56 to court. Last year, 470 cases of defilement were reported in the entire region. Out of these, 127 were taken to court and by the end of last year we had only secured 20 convictions,” he says.
Angela Nakafeero, the commissioner of gender and women affairs in the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development (MGLSD), says within a span of four years, sexual violence has increased by 14 percent.
Story Credit Daily Monitor
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