Leaders and health officials in the Bukedi sub-region have linked the increasing rate of teenage pregnancies and early marriages to the absence of sex education in schools. According to statistics from the National Population Council in 2021, Bukedi saw a significant rise in the number of teenage pregnancies, increasing from 23,829 in 2019 to 25,066 in 2020 and reaching 33,789 in 2022.
Data from the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (Ubos), released in 2022, revealed that 25.8 percent of girls become pregnant before turning 18, with more than 180 teenagers giving birth every month in Budaka, Pallisa, Butaleja, Kibuku, and Butebo districts that constitute the Bukedi sub-region.
In an interview with the Monitor, Dr. John Wogabaga, the officer-in-charge of Budaka Health Centre IV, attributed this trend to the lack of sexuality education in schools. He emphasized the importance of empowering girls with the knowledge to make informed decisions regarding their reproductive health. Some girls, he noted, lack information on accessing contraceptives, while others succumb to the “pressure to prove their fertility.”
Dr. Wogabaga also highlighted that approximately 85 percent of births among girls aged 15 to 19 occur within early marriages, contributing to high maternal and infant mortality rates.
Dr. Betty Kyandondo, the director of Family Health at the National Population Council, emphasized that increasing access to sexual education could help reduce teenage pregnancies. She described teenage pregnancy as a serious issue in Uganda, requiring collective efforts to address, particularly through sexual education.
Mr. Sam Wojega, a senior clinician in Budaka District, explained that sexuality education equips young people with information about sex and sexuality, enhancing their self-esteem and physical and emotional well-being. It enables them to form positive attitudes regarding identity, relationships, and intimacy. However, he pointed out that many girls face sexual harassment due to the lack of sexual education, leading to numerous sexual and reproductive health challenges.
Dr. Elisa Mulwani, the Budaka District Health Officer, acknowledged that parents, while trying to provide basic sexual information to their children, are limited by cultural barriers and insufficient knowledge. He stressed the need to institutionalize sexuality education and ensure that young people across Uganda have access to timely and accurate reproductive health information.
Many parents in the Bukedi sub-region are advocating for the government to reintroduce Sexual and Reproductive Health messages through schools, as Mr. Christopher Wamika, the district education officer for Kibuku, revealed that the absence of sex education in schools leads children to engage in sexual activity at an early age, contributing to poverty.
Despite the call for sexual education, some members of the public express skepticism, fearing it may lead children into sexual immorality. Reverend James Wamono, the parish priest of St. Stephen Church of Uganda, expressed concerns that teaching sexuality education in schools could accelerate immorality among children.
Elizabeth Nankoma, a cultural leader and marriage counselor in Budaka, argued that sex is a sacred act and teaching it to young people is not appropriate. She deemed it culturally wrong for a male teacher to instruct children about sexuality, asserting that children at this stage are too young for such education.
Dr. Lawrence Oonyu, a health officer in Butebo District, emphasized that many children become victims of sexual abuse in their early years due to a lack of information and confidence to speak out.
A report on pregnancy and childbirth in 2019 by Biomed Central Medicine (BMC) highlighted that peer pressure, sexual abuse, lack of control over sex, and lack of awareness were significantly associated with teenage pregnancy in many schools across the country.