Over 1,500 girls impregnated since schools shut in Kitgum, Uganda

District leaders in Kitgum are worried that by the time local schools reopen, more than half of the female students in the district will be pregnant

About 1,520 girls below the age of 19 in Kitgum, in the Northern Region of Uganda, have visited a hospital for antenatal care since the coronavirus pandemic forced schools to shut in March.

This is one of the findings of June statistics from the district community development office.

The coronavirus pandemic has not helped matters. James Okello, district deputy community development officer, says that with students who were previously in the custodianship of schools now back home, cases of child marriage and teenage pregnancy have skyrocketed.

“We had to liaise with hospitals and private clinics to collect the data of children under the age of 19 who had come for their first antenatal visit,” Okello said.

“What we found is worrying. I don’t know if schools will have female students when they resume operations.

“At Labongo Akwang Primary School, a teacher impregnated and later escaped with a 15-year-old pupil.

“When the headteacher tried to arrest him, the parents threatened to kill her and burn the school. The headteacher has even abandoned the school,” Okello said.

Worrying trend

Fear of retribution from the local community has kept cases of violence against women and children, teenage pregnancy and early marriage hugely underreported in Kitgum.

Police officers fear making arrests and hospitals fear reporting accurate statistics.

Okello recalls with anguish a recent case of child pregnancy involving a 13-year-old girl who was suffering from nodding syndrome.

She was impregnated by a 14-year-old schoolboy and gave birth normally but then succumbed to the disease, which has plagued the district for over ten years.

UNICEF is partnering with the district administration to implement the EU-supported Spotlight Initiative for Ending Violence Against Women and Girls in Kitgum, to tackle such community behaviours.

The Spotlight Initiative is geared towards ending all forms of violence against women and children, including physical violence, emotional violence and child marriage.

* Asaase Radio 99.5 – tune in or log on to broadcasts online.

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