Every day in developing countries, 20,000 girls under age 18 give birth. This amounts to 7.3 million births a year. And if all pregnancies are included, not just births, the number of adolescent pregnancies is much higher. In Uganda, the figure stands at 25% according to a recent study by the Uganda Demographic and Health Survey 2016 (UDHS) conducted by UNBS.
Adolescent pregnancy is generally not the result of a deliberate choice – these girls often have little say over decisions affecting their lives especially the children with disability who are more vulnerable. Rather, early pregnancy is a consequence of little or no access to school, information or health care especially in hard to reach areas.
“I am glad that I am back to school and I can stand in front of my fellow pupils to speak about children’s rights in such a condition,” said Nuria Muhindo a physically lame young girl, with walking difficulties. She was born a normal girl with both legs strong and walking like any other person.
On that fateful day, she was sent back for handwork from school and she decided to climb a palm tree so that she could get materials to make a local broom using palm leaves. “…I did not know that the day which had started seeming jubilant would end me a disabled girl forever. How I wish I would not have climbed that tree.” Nuria said with tears from her eyes. She fell from the palm tree and broke both her legs. Despite the efforts of the medical doctors who worked on her, she became lame. Her new moving style was to crawl with her buttocks to reach her destination but was later given a walking aid.
She had denied herself chance of associating with other children because of stigma that she would feel and face at school. “Some children would not sit with me because they feared the responsibility of helping me out when I needed to sit or go home. I felt denied and alone…,”added Nuria. The already bad situation even got worse. On another fateful day while returning home, a heavy downpour forced her to take shelter at a nearby shop, some 2 men took advantage of her and as a result she got pregnant and dropped out of school. Nuria was only 14 years when this happened. She would just stay at home for fear of being mocked by other children.
Three years later, her forgotten history was rejuvenated! “One day, a man called Stanley Mughumbirwa, a member of the Nyumba Kumi and again a PTA member talked to me about joining school again. I could imagine myself in the school compound like this. I thought other children would look down on me but he counseled me that even other children like me had joined and were doing well. I promised to think about it,” she said. Nyumba Kumi is one of the initiatives brought by KALI under the project supported by IDF to detect and prevent any form of child abuse in the communities.
During one of the out reaches by KALI on the school child rights club, they visited Nuria at her parents place. She was surprised that she had gotten visitors in the first place, but again humbled that they had come to make an impact in her life. “They told me about children’s rights and the child rights club at the school,” she remembered what Mr. Mughumbirwa had told her about going back to school. She was then encouraged to go back to school because most of the children had learnt about children’s rights and therefore, she would enjoy the school environment. The child rights clubs got to know about her ordeal from Mughumbirwa, who had reported her case to KALI and the schools supported.
“There, I was puzzled in between making a decision of whether to go back to school or stay home where I felt more relaxed. I then assured them that I would think about it,” she explained.
She then shared the news with her parents who surprisingly supported her through. “I got encouraged and I made up my mind to go back to school and try my chance.”
Nuria was then enrolled in primary 5 and she was awed by the reception accorded to her by the entire school and she was indeed surprised that most of the children that have disabilities were being treated with such humility. This was a different situation compared to when she had left the same school three years back. This gave her hope and courage that she can make it through school with ease and so much love.
Nuria is now in primary six and still ready to go higher. She has been mentored by several people most especially KALI staff, teachers and other role models. “I actively participate in school activities organized by KALI together with the school child rights club. These include activities like debating, music and drama, and other outreaches to source out other children who need help and this has given me a sense of responsibility as a pupil and encouraged me to work even harder in my academic work,” Nuria plans to become a teacher when she is done with her education