By Naboth Isaac Niwagaba.
Human rights activists have called on Government to engage all stakeholders in the education sector to ensure that school-going teenagers who got pregnant during the COVID-19 lockdown are protected from stigma and discrimination.
The call was made during a half-day dialogue that brought together Local Government leaders, Health officials, Security officers, and Civil society organizations operating in the Kigezi sub-region, to discuss the social accountability and governance in health during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Dialogue was organized by Non-Governmental Organizations Local Sustainable Communities -LOSCO and Center for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD) at White Horse Inn Kabale.
During the Dialogue, the Kabale Women in Development (KWID) Director, Florence Tumuheirwe and Dorothy Kesiime from the Forum for Women in Democracy (FOWODE) raised concern that the teenage girls who got pregnant during the COVID-19 lockdown were already facing stigmatization from the community and they also risked being discriminated when they return to school in January next year.
The duo said that Government should emphasize sensitizing the parents and teachers about the right to education, arguing that whether pregnant or not, the girl child has a right to decide on her future by getting access to education.
The LOSCO Executive Director Albert Taremwa said it was high time Government engaged school administrators both in public and private institutions to ensure that there are no existing regulations that could be used to deny access to education for teenage mothers and girls that will still be pregnant by January 2022 when schools are re-opened.
Dr. Gilbert Mateeka, the Medical Superintendent of Rugarama Hospital in Kabale Municipality said it was high time everyone accepted that COVID-19 came with irreversible effects which include untimely pregnancies. He revealed that at the Church founded Rugarama School of Nurses and Midwifery, they had for the first time, let the pregnant students report to school in November, and support was being accorded to those that gave birth during examination time.
Meanwhile, the Kigezi Region Police Spokesperson Elly Maate dismissed accusations that Police had not done enough to protect the schoolgirls from early pregnancies during the COVID-19 lockdown. Maate said Police had done their role to arrest and charge the rape, incest, sexual assault, and defilement suspects adding that some of them had been convicted and sentenced to prison.
Maate noted that it was everyone’s obligation to protect the girl child from harm by reporting any suspicions to relevant authorities, and asked the public to stop leaving the responsibility to Government or Police alone.
Statistics indicate that more than 7,000 underage girls were impregnated in the six districts of the Kigezi region during the Covid-19 lockdown.
Kabale district took the lead with a record 2,628 girls impregnated between March 2020 and July 2021, Rukungiri was second in 1982, while Kanungu had 1,401 cases of teenage pregnancies. Rubanda, Kisoro, and Rukiga registered 200, 76 and 71 teenage pregnancies respectively according to statistics from the Senior Probational offices.