Uganda’s rate of teenage pregnancy is worryingly among the highest in the world. 24% of all female teenagers are either pregnant or have given birth already. According to figures from Uganda Demographic health survey 2011, as early as 15 years, about 15% of ladies between20-29 years were married. Another 49% were married by 18. The astronomical early pregnancy aside, Uganda also has the one of the world’s highest fertility rate, with the annual growth rate of 3.5% per annum.

The unsustainable population growth is without a doubt a direct constraint on the already meager resource envelop available to government. It means the patient to doctor ratio will instead worsen rather than improving. Drugs/sundries availability in hospitals and health centers will further deteriorate. The odds are that the government will increasingly find it difficult to provide social services for this bulging dependant population, a situation made worse by the fact that with many dependants, the tax base does not necessarily increase with population. The population growth is making it quite unlikely to achieve some targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

In an already pernicious maternal health situation where an estimated 16 mothers die daily during child labour in Uganda, teenage pregnancy can only add to this grave-enough statistics. Pregnant teenagers are comparatively highly predisposed to pre and postnatal complications owing to the fact that in some of them are not yet physiologically ready for child bearing roles.

The psychosocial trauma teenagers go through after pregnancy is indescribable. For the young girls who get pregnant by “accident” or “unwanted pregnancy”, in most cases the probability of marriage stability is nearly half. Ill-prepared as they mostly are, the partners are obviously not prepared emotional and materialistically for the role of parenting. In most cases these teenagers are hyper-vulnerable to forced marriage, which is in itself a recipe for Gender Based Violence (GBV) because they enter marriages without knowing weakness of one another.

The Uganda Police Child Protection Unit has continuously been receiving cases of abandoned children, courtesy of unprepared parents unable to take care of their own kids. A large proportion of the over 15,000 street kids in Uganda are of this category. In the contextual analysis of urban areas, it depicts a grim outlook where some of today’s street kids who are not going to school and without parental guidance are the potential burglars and robbers or even rebels of tomorrow. Such is the long term disasters in the making, to which teenage pregnancy is a contributing factor.

Teenage pregnancy further presents a crucial set back to holistic human development, at the homestead in particular and the country at large. Conceiving at an early age at which one should ordinarily be in school often tantamount to the end of academic journeys for these young ladies. Predictably, low education is remotely correlated to low income status, as lowly educated women are less likely to get gainful employment compared to their educated peers. The squabbles are further exacerbated by the prevailing state of gender relations still prevalent in rural Uganda, where housewives with no formal employment do a lot of work at home, but which work is not valued monetarily.

Unwanted pregnancy: A study by Isis-WICC in Kasese, shows that in almost every family in the district a girl has been defiled, and that the main cause of early marriage was unwanted pregnancy with 38% and 22.4% in Bukonzo East and Busongora North respectively. Ironically, whereas defilement is a capital offence by the laws of Uganda, most of the marriages are sanctioned by parents. Law enforcement officials are themselves abetting the vice, since they share the money for out of court settlement. An LC1 in Kasese was himself married to a 14 year old, the study reveals.

Jane (not real names), got pregnant at 13 years (Photo Credit http://unifiedforunifat.wordpress.com)

Jane (not real names), got pregnant at 13 years (Photo Credit http://unifiedforunifat.wordpress.com)

The challenges associated with early marriages are real; unsustainable population growth and a bottleneck to economic development must be solved. Solving this calls for multi-pronged approach. Teachers in schools should be empowered to provide regulated dosage of sex education. The poverty that compels parents to give out their daughters in forced marriages has to be tackled. The already existing laws require strict enforcement mechanism.

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