While it is true that everyone has struggled with the fallout of this global pandemic (COVID 19), it has had more serious consequences on some of the most vulnerable populations. Unfortunately, adolescent girls have been among the most adversely affected and for some, life has become downright dangerous. In Uganda, schools have been shuttered close to two years with no plans to reopen anytime soon. Without the support system of teachers and school administrators, many girls are left vulnerable to teenage pregnancy and other sexual abuse threats including gender-based violence.
In Uganda, as with many other countries around the world, Covid-19 has resulted in an increased rate of teenage pregnancy. In order to gain basic necessities like sanitary towels, girls have engaged in transactional sex with men who take advantage of their need for money.
A survey conducted by Rwebisengo Widows Cultural Association (through her community gate keepers/Cadres) in the two-pastoral communities of Basongora in Kasese and Batuku in Ntoroko Districts respectively. At least over 148 cases of child marriage and 56 of child pregnancy have been recorded within a period of 5 months. Reported drivers to child pregnancy and childhood marriage are related to poverty caused by the pandemic. The pandemic has forced families to marry off their daughters to help alleviate financial burdens.
HOP RWCA interacting with Jesca about their situation.
Having been impregnated, this has not only ruined my future but also the trust that my parents had in me,” Says Jesca (not real name) from Butungama, Ntoroko District, who is now suffering with her 5 months baby at just 16 years old. She got pregnant during COVID lockdown. she finds herself out of school and afraid for her future.
Jesca is not alone.so many other girls are going through the same in these pastoral communities. Adding to the burden, many girls are left without a partner and find themselves having to be the breadwinners of their families and their new born babies.
It should be noted that Covid-19 has also resulted in a secondary health crisis in Uganda. In some communities, girls have tried to remove their unborn babies themselves to terminate their pregnancies. They are also at increased risk of violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect.
The pandemic has also resulted in limited access to health services for girls and prescription medication has been very limited. And, the effects on girls’ mental health is equally as troubling. Without their support systems, many girls have no outlet for the stress they are feeling during this devastating time.
This is heartbreaking. RWCA as an organization has now moved into these communities to partly solve the problem by engaging girls. under her Incubation for girl’s future project (IGF), RWCA is identifying girls in pastoral communities and equipping them with alternative soft skills in weaving and knitting. This has not only provided them a saver environment but only has increased their household income through marketing the produced products thus solving their households’ financial burden.
In the Photo are girls undergoing soft skills training in knitting and weaving.