Community Update

World Pulse Toolkits Available!

At World Pulse, we recognize the need for ongoing learning—for you and for your community! Our toolkits are all available here.

We are especially excited to share our signature Citizen Journalism and Digital Empowerment Curriculum. Start learning today!

Teenage Pregnancy: An old problem in a new world.

My uncle Ruhindi came home to visit once when I was a child. I remember the visit clearly because the usually jovial man was very distraught. We lived near the police station and Uncle Ruhindi had a case to report. It would be the first of several visits.

His daughter had been raped.

Uncle Ruhindi had two children, a boy and a girl. The girl was his firstborn and the first time I saw her, I recounted to my mother, "I saw a very beautiful girl." After inquiring about the general location within which I had cited this very beautiful girl, my mother said, "You must be talking about Ruhindi's daughter." I was nine. She was thirteen.

When I saw her again, she was fifteen and pregnant. Her father had carried her to the police station as he tried to get justice for her. She would never wear that school uniform again. 

"Child, not bride" "Let girls be girls" There have been several campaigns, and yet still the world continues to rid thousands of girls of their childhood. Uganda is, according to a 2012 African Reproductive and Sexual Health Scorecard report, among the top 10 African countries with the highest adolescent fertility rate, with an adolescent fertility rate of 159 births per 1,000 young women aged 15 – 19 years. 

The story of teenage pregnancy is a heartbreaking story. There is risk of complications as the body is not physically ready to bear a child. The young mother often has to dropout of school, sacrificing her education. In addition to all this, society ostracizes, continually pointing fingers at "the girl that got pregnant" and the family of the girl that got pregnant. 

Uncle Ruhindi is a resident of Mubende district which is said to be among the districts with a high number of teenage mothers. In that district, nearly one in three households recording a teen that has got pregnant or has had a child. [Daily Monitor, July 11, 2013]

What this says to me is not just that we need to do something about the rate of teenage pregnancies, but also that we need to figure out a recovery system, for the pregnant teenager that is living amongst us. A system that does not involve "Get out of my house!" and "This girl brings shame" that are often said to many of these girls. A system that does not involve a risky pregnancy, or an even riskier secret abortion. One teen mom says, " “For most of this year, I have been trying to figure out whether I am a child or adult mother and whenever I think about this, I begin crying, especially when I see my friends and agemates going to school."

They need antenatal care. They need love and support. Regardless of that swelling belly, they are still children.

I had heard of only one center in Uganda that offered such services, Wakisa Ministries, so I arranged to meet with director and founder, Vivian Kityo.

Wakisa Ministries has so far helped, and sheltered, over 550 girls since its inception in 2005. It is a very limited space with the administrative offices and dormitories in one building. Vivian says there was a dormitory built on the compound- as a separate building-, but it got burnt and plans to reconstruct are still underway. At the time I visited, there was 20 girls in residence. There is no advertising done by the home for fear of being overwhelmed by the numbers. 

Many girls come by themselves, but they have to provide a phone number of a relative who has to come in and given written consent on behalf of the family. "Do they think you are condoning teenage pregnancy?" I ask her. She says yes, and told me about the various phone calls that she receives. Parents will call to say, "What is she doing there? Send her away!" Vivian says that by the 7th month though, most mothers usually come. Over 90% will come to see their daughter. "They miss them."

And sometimes, the mothers have got a chance to resolve their marital problems that were caused by the pregnancy. One mother had called her earlier that day, and thanked her profusely for taking in her pregnant teen. The father had sent both mother and pregnant daughter out of his house, leaving them with no means of support. However with the daughter at Wakisa, the mother was able to move back into her marital home.

Vivian Kityo is a trained nurse, in addition to her administrative degrees that she got later in life. As an enrolled nurse at one of the hospitals in Uganda, she had encountered a 15 year-old who had attempted an unsafe abortion for fear of telling her parents about the pregnancy. "She was a very, very beautiful girl. She came in and we did everything we could. She had sepsis. We treated the infection, and had to put her on oxygen later. 

She died after a week."

Seven years after, Vivian would be presiding over a Mothers' Union meeting where the women discussed teenage pregnancy. She remembered the girl from her nursing days, and a conversation started about the need for something different. "We needed to think outside the box." And there, among devout Christian mothers- women that the country thinks are very rigid- the idea of Wakisa Ministries was born, to address an increasing problem their daughters faced.

I was lucky to meet one of Wakisa's beneficiaries on the day that I was there. She said she had come to the home, at 14, and she was four months along. She was counseled, given antenatal and postnatal help. Now she has a 6-year-old daughter and is attending university, pursuing a degree in Guidance and Counseling.

The home has had some Caesarian births, no more than 10 miscarriages, 2 stillbirths and only one girl developed VVF (vesicovaginal fistula, a leakage of urine due to a birth injury). Many of these girls, hidden in their homes and chastised daily, never getting antenatal help, would never have gone back to school. If they survived being another statistic in maternal mortality.

Teenage pregnancy is said to be caused by a lot of things-poverty, lack of sex education, no family support- but blaming the girls, some victims of sexual abuse, is not getting us anywhere. With one in four teenage girls in Uganda said to have either been pregnant or had a baby, according to the Uganda Demographic and Health Survey 2011, the numbers should tell us that. So while we attack the problem with increased support for girl child education, more openness with sex education, we also need to remember that there is a pregnant child in our home. What do we do with that child as we protect her younger sisters? Vivian says we support and counsel her. 

My mother's sister got pregnant when she was 15, and still in school. My mother, who was a housewife and her guardian in the city, simply packed her off to the village, to their mother. The girl, my cousin, grew up in a very Catholic family believing for a long time that her grandparents were her parents. The circumstances surrounding her birth were not talked about. I have naturally questioned my mother about her decision at the time, and it is no different from the mother that called Vivian. 

"I was completely dependent on the man [my father] and he was kind enough to take on my sister. Was I supposed to ask him to take on yet another dependent, a child that was not even his?" I think that my father might have been more receptive than my mother thought, but I can understand her not wanting to jeopardize her marriage. At the time, she was unemployed, with five children. Her life had been her husband and their children for about ten years.

I have also asked my grandmother about the childbirth process at the time. It was heartbreaking to listen to, and I knew there is such a story in just about every household in the country.

She narrated, "It was at night when the baby came. The girls [her sisters] screamed to me that she had peed on their bed. I knew that it was time, and sent their father to get a birth attendant. I moved her to the kitchen and massaged her while I instructed her." 

The baby was born alive before the birth attendant arrived, on a kitchen floor of a cramped home in a refugee camp. The mother had a severe bout of cholera after, and her mother breasted the newborn. The baby grew up as the last born in her grandparents' home, only finding out her sister was actually her mother when she was about seven after a relative accidentally let that cat out of the bag.

There are a lot of conflicting customs in the new Africa, in the new Uganda. The Christians are ashamed of having children out of wedlock. The traditionalists will not have two families under one roof. We have education so it is inadvisable to make the man responsible marry the teenager. But at the same time, this is an increasing problem. Pregnancy rates amongst teenage girls are quoted at 25% (Uganda Population Secretariat, 2011). 

There is also increased sexual abuse of minors. ANPPCAN (African Network for the Prevention and Protection against Child Abuse and Neglect) reports that “at least 628 children are defiled per month countrywide and that even though the Penal Code Act was amended to give tougher sentences to defilers, this is not being implemented." The gender discrimination is as much a part of my world as it was my grandmother's.

Every month, a girl's life is changed. It is an old problem in a new world. It requires new out-of-the-box, often uncomfortable to some, solutions.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous digital media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.

Comments

Precious M's picture

Heartbreaking indeed.

This old problem of teenage pregnancy continues to trouble this new world.
Nice work!

Precious

My pen speaks

Rebecca R's picture

:-)

Hi Precious,

It does, indeed.

Thank you for reading and commenting.

Wendyiscalm's picture

THANKS

Thanks for bringing this to our attention in such an eloquent writing.

Wendy

Wendy Stebbins
Founder/CEO
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

Rebecca R's picture

:-)

Thank you, Wendy, for reading and leaving an encouraging comment.

Becky

Betty B. Ackah's picture

This is so heartbreaking!

This is so heartbreaking! It's not like it's a problem I'm unfamiliar with, in fact the organisation I work with encounter such situations all the time. Especially in terms of those who furtively try to abort themselves... It is a really heartbreaking phenomenon.

I also noticed from what you wrote Rebecca that the decisions taken by the mothers or guardians to send the pregnant girl out of the home were based on their total dependence (especially economically) on their spouses. This is a really multifaceted problem.

I couldn't help but get teary-eyed whilst reading this. Good job Rebecca.

Betty
Maternal Health Channel
Asking questions. Seeking solutions. Saving lives

Rebecca R's picture

Economic dependence

Hi Betty,

It always comes back to economic dependence, doesn't it? Just last night, my sister and I were talking about how we would rather have our own source of income and never have to beg and plead with a man for money, every time we need it. We wondered where we got it from because our home was completely dependent on our father.

Gender equality, socially and economically, will go a long way in several battles.

Becky

Y's picture

You have well-told the

You have well-told the problem. There are solutions. Planned Parenthood should be supported by all of us. They provide reproductive health education, and medical services. If we take away from the animals that masquerade as human men the ability to make a child or any woman a mother against her will, we can win this war that simultaneously destroys children of many generations.

Blessing on you and your beleaguered country, Rebecca.
Yvette

Y

Greengirl's picture

I completely agree...

I completely agree with you that "If we take away from the animals that masquerade as human men the ability to make a child or any woman a mother against her will, we can win this war that simultaneously destroys children of many generations".

Greengirl

Rebecca R's picture

When you spoke of Planned

When you spoke of Planned Parenthood, I remembered what would be the equivalent here: Marie Stopes. They do reproductive health education, give contraceptives and generally support and educate young women in the country. I am hitting myself on the head for not passing by their offices to find out how they are helping. But I should.

"..this war that simultaneously destroys children of many generations." How very apt!

Y's picture

WorldPulse is a fabulous

WorldPulse is a fabulous brainstorming opportunity for all of us. Stop hitting yourself and go talk to them.

Y

Greengirl's picture

Nicely written!

'Girl not bride' and 'let girls be girls'. I feel like shouting those two slogans using the highest pitch that I could garner. We need to drum more of those slogans into the ears of every pedophile out there! I think it is completely thoughtless and heartless particularly of those so called men who are not ready to father a child to disorient the course of a girl's life and then go into hiding.

Very importantly, victims deserve all the support they can get. Vivian Kityo and the Wakisa Ministries women deserve commendation and recognition!

You have beautifully brought a very worrisome problem and trend to life and light though your writing; and I trust that it will make the desired impact.

Best Wishes,
Greengirl

Rebecca R's picture

Thank you!

Yes, indeed. Vivian Kityo and women doing similar work deserve commendation and recognition. The support and care they give the girls is needed. Very much.

Thank you for reading, and commenting. If it doesn't make the desired impact, we will just keep shouting until it does :-)

Best,

Becky

ikirimat's picture

BETWEEN HARD ROCK AND STONE!!

Today we had a discussion with Members of Parliament on teenage pregnancies and what they can do to stop this vice. They expressed their dilemmas in fighting this issue
" What do i do when I'm invited as guest of honor to a marriage ceremony of a teenager. This information may be obtained through whisperers in the ceremony- that bride covered over there is just 15 years....."

" My campaign slogan was No defilement, I was warned by the men and women in my constituency that -we shall not vote for you, my son has defiled so why should I vote for u to jail my son..."

' i know of a boy who has impregnated 8 girls between 13-15 years at the same period in my constituency..."

and many such statements. I'm disillusioned. how then can this be fought is this is what our legislators say??

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."


Tara Celentano's picture

Enlightening

Rebecca,

Thank you for this! I was very ignorant on how Ugandan society responds to teen pregnancies. I am glad programs like Wakisa Ministries are there to help the girls through the process, to get them back into pursuing their education and keeping their confidence strong even after a period of baring a child so young. Thank you!

Rebecca R's picture

You're welcome

Hi Tara,

I think that it is a problem that goes across the border. We do have the advantage of extended families, in the structure of an African community. Soba girl can be sent to her village, to her grandparents or an aunt. That is breaking down with more westernization and there is even more need for programs like Wakisa Ministries. Vivian is doing amazing work.

Thank you for reading.

delphine criscenzo's picture

A Universal problem

Dear Rebecca,

Thank you for this very thoughtful insight in what it means to live at the frontlines of teen pregnancy in Uganda. This is a very serious problem which blames the girls. In the case of your cousin who was rapped, did she get pregnant from this incident? Are most of the teenagers who get pregnant, victims of rape? I think that this creates an even bigger problem.
Teenage pregnancy is shun in the US as well. Some families are open about the process but others, kick their daughters out of their homes.
I used to work in a facility for teenage mothers and what was most amazing about this experience for me was to realize the potential of these young women. They are young, but they are full of energy, great ideas and resilience. They want to make it work for them and for their babies and they have a future thanks to facilities like he one I worked for.
Thank you for the piece.

Delphine Criscenzo
Online Training Coordinator
World Pulse
www.worldpulse.com

Rebecca R's picture

Missing words

I just realized in editing, I removed the words "and pregnant." When Uncle Ruhindi took her to the police station, she was "fifteen and pregnant." She was not very big, just about three months along.

No, not all teenagers that get pregnant are victims of rape. For some, there is consent. There are some girls at Wakisa ministries who say the men promised them money for tuition, in exchange. It is a kind of rape, I suppose. But I also know of an about 9-year-old who is pregnant with her boyfriend's baby. Her boyfriend is about 13 years. It is a multiple-faceted problem. There is sexual abuse, gender discrimination (so the girl has to give sex in exchange for money, while her brothers at home are taken care of by the parents), and there is also a lack of sex education, where minors impregnant each other.

You are right, the girls are full of such strength. I kept imagining myself in their shoes and even if I am a bit older, I know that even now, I would never be able to carry such strength and resilience.

Thank you for reading.

Usha RS's picture

Hope

Dear Rebecca,
Thank you for your article. I wonder what is being done to prevent teenage pregnancies in the first place. Is sexual education being provided in families, schools, society? Are girls being educated with viable opportunities to build productive lives that they choose not to become mothers at an early age? I appreciate the wonderful work being done by Wakisa Ministries in extending care and support to teenage mothers. Thank you for highlighting this.
Peace and blessings,
Usha

Let your light shine!

Rebecca R's picture

Not much is done.

Hi Usha,

Thank you for reading. I am not sure I should even say that there is sex education provided. It is minimal. Not enough is done to prevent the teenage pregnancies, unfortunately. There is some discussion though about teaching it inschools. It is a work in progress.

Mukut's picture

Nice work !

You wrote about such an important topic. Young girls, getting pregnant and then leading in misery. I was wondering the same as Delphine, did your cousin get pregnant because of the rape?

You have brought to light so many facets of teenage pregnancy which I was unaware about. Brilliant work.

Keep it up !

Love,

Mukut Ray

Rebecca R's picture

Thanks

Hi Mukut,

Yes, she got pregnant. I don't know how that disappeared in the copy+pasting I did.

Becky

Maura Bogue's picture

Gripping piece

You articulate yourself in a great way that grabs me as a reader. Your sentence, "Regardless of that swelling belly, they are still children," and, "I knew there is such a story in just about every household in the country," are perfect examples. In the future, try introducing your sources by their names and who they are that makes them relevant to the topic. You don't need to mention how you met or made appointments with them and can use this space in your story for other important details.

Rebecca R's picture

Thank you

Hi Maura,

Thank you for the feedback. I did struggle with the name thing, a little. In retrospect, I should have at least given them other names since I was not sure they wanted their names out there. I will do that, next time.

Maura Bogue's picture

Great

Great to hear that you will make use of my feedback for next time! When interviewing sources, it is crucial that you obtain their permission to publish their names before you begin the interview. If they do not want you to publish their names, consult the organization where you are submitting your story on its policy for anonymity for guidance.

Karly N's picture

Honest and Important Writing

Dear Becky,

I want to thank you for the honesty and eloquence with which you approach this subject. It is so important for us to hear your account of this injustice, and it is brave of you to share this story.

I hold girls groups and we are starting a global awareness campaign focusing on violence against women. I would love to hear more about education solutions and would very much like to be involved.

Thank you again for sharing this.

Warmly,

Karly

Sherry L's picture

Grateful & Courageous

Becky,
Thank you for your thorough, professional and personal approach to this important situation. Your insights and voice are creating awareness, conversations and thinking that will blaze a path to systemic change. And, you did this on your own!
Looking forward to your op-ed piece.
Blessings, strength & gratitude,
Sherry

Sherry Helmke
www.newviewnow.com

Osai's picture

Truth is hard

Dear Becky,

This is hard truth that you have put a human face to. Teenage pregnancy is an issue that has affected all generations and cultures in different forms. Some experience it as child brides, others as illicit sex, others as a result from abuse or rape. In all cases, silence, shame and discrimination prevent many girls from getting the best health care, support and justice.

Thanks for sharing.

Best wishes,
Osai

Twitter: @livingtruely

Rachael Maddock-Hughes's picture

Dear Becky, when you said

Dear Becky, when you said "Regardless of that swelling belly, they are still children.", it made me want to cry. There is such truth in that statement, and everyone needs to remember that. Are you seeing any campaigns that are more constructive around this issue, and don't victim blame?

Kind regards,

Rachael

"In every human heart there are a few passions that last a lifetime. They're with us from the moment we're born, and nothing can dilute their intensity." Rob Brezny

Harriet Kamashanyu's picture

AMAZING..

THIS IS AN INSIGHT THAT INDEED NEEDS A KEENER EYE,,,,,

THANKS BECKY

Harriet Kamashanyu.
"A woman is not born but rather becomes!"

Magazine »

Read global coverage through women's eyes

Letters to a Better World

Letters to a Better World

Campaigns »

Be heard at influential forums

WWW: Women Weave the Web

WWW: Women Weave the Web

Programs »

Help us train women citizen journalists

World Pulse Voices of Our Future

World Pulse Voices of Our Future

Blog »

Read the latest from World Pulse headquarters

World Pulse Launches our Inaugural Community Advisory Board!

World Pulse Launches our Inaugural Community Advisory Board!

Partners »

Join forces with our wide network of partners

Nobel Women's Initiative

Nobel Women's Initiative