More than 200 cases of child marriages and teenage pregnancies are reported every year in Bukwo district, according to the District Community Development Officer (DCDO), Ben Sakajja. Despite the challenges posed by poverty, inadequate parenting, a flawed justice system, and the cultural practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), the issue persists.
Sakajja highlighted that the prevalence of FGM, seen as a rite of passage, contributes significantly to child marriages in Bukwo and other parts of the Sebei subregion. FGM involves the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia, and it continues in remote areas despite the existence of the 2010 FGM Act.
During a recent youth round table meeting in Soroti, organized by ActionAid International Uganda and supported by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Sakajja disclosed that, on average, they handle about 10 cases of defiled children each month. He emphasized that the persistence of child marriages is exacerbated by perpetrators often going unpunished due to alleged corruption within the justice system.
Samuel Francis Ononge, the FGM program officer for the Sebei sub-region, pointed out that cultural rigidity hinders efforts against FGM, leading to adolescent pregnancies and child marriages. He suggested a need for a review of the law to clarify evidence requirements in FGM cases, as the clandestine nature of the practice makes prosecution challenging.
The discussion at the meeting focused on identifying challenges and developing innovative approaches to combat FGM and child marriages, particularly in hotspots like Bukwo. Ononge emphasized the importance of youth engagement in educating communities on the lifelong health effects of FGM.
Gady Epitu, the National Youth Council’s communications secretary, highlighted that FGM has made Amudat district a hotspot for adolescent pregnancies and underage marriages in the Karamoja subregion. The National Youth Council has advocated for support to address the issues in isolated regions like Karamoja.
To tackle the problem, districts like Kapchorwa have adopted strategies such as a new parenting model and Alternative Rites of Passage (ARP). The ARP focuses on positive cultural practices, excluding harmful elements. Additionally, efforts involve engaging religious leaders and using model parents to mentor others.
Despite these initiatives, challenges such as porous borders and unreported cases persist. The involvement of grandmothers in spreading awareness and acting as ambassadors has been one strategy in Nakapiripit district. The need to increase reporting and surveillance for prompt interventions is recognized as crucial in addressing child marriages and FGM.