MBALE : Every day of the week, 13-year-old Prisca watches her colleagues go to school.
She is envious because, under normal circumstances, she should be in the company of her friends, trekking the same path.
But her story is different – she cannot attend school but rather stay at home and take care of her four-month-old baby.
Prisca (not real name) was in Primary Six at Bumoni Primary School in Namisindwa District when she got sexually involved with a fellow pupil in P7.
“For most of this year, I have been trying to figure out whether I am a child or an adult mother and whenever I think about this, I begin crying, especially when I see my friends and age-mates going to school,” she says.
Prisca says she was impregnated at the age of 12 in 2021 at the height of Covid 19 pandemic, expelled from school, rejected by her boyfriend, banished by her parents, and only sought refuge at her grandmother’s place.
Her grandmother’s tale is, however, not any different – it is a hard life. The old woman earns a living by doing casual jobs like digging in other people’s gardens and rearing goats and chickens.
Prisca’s life story may be depressing, but she is not alone. The 13-year-old teenage mother is one of the many child mothers in Uganda who are facing a lot of hardship to fend for their children.
She says she has had to do odd jobs in order to get money to buy food, give medical attention, and buy dresses for her this little child, who apparently is fatherless because the father ran to Kenya.
“I spend not less than Shs 2000 daily to look after my baby because I have to buy milk daily and some supplements for my baby it is expensive when it comes to medication, dressing her, and feeding her,” said Prisca.
Mr Stephen Weyusya, the executive director for African Development Initiatives, a local NGO that identifies and looks after child mothers and provides them with assistance to sustain their babies says teenage mothers are going through hard life looking after babies.
He said girls as young as 13 years are grappling with the difficulties that come with being a mother and the usual maternal challenges for these teen mothers-to-be are compounded by the fact that are poor from poor homes and have poor boyfriends.
“One, it is very expensive given the economic stand of the country now; the child requires to feed, clothing and worse of all when the child is sick and requires medical attention,” Mr Weyusya says.
Mr Weyusya is looking after almost 1500 child mothers under ARDI in Bumoni, gathered from Bumbo and Bubutu sub-counties whose stories seem to share a script; Cases of young girls dropping out of school in the district due to teenage pregnancy are rampant.
He explained that getting pregnant as a teenager is not only an emotionally traumatising experience but can also be financially costly.
Dr Stephen Masai the DHO Namisindwa district says that Namisindwa district has about 43 percent of girls in the district aged between 13 and 16 who are already mothers and are all struggling to fend for their children alone.
. “And yet these teenage mothers have no means of sustenance, they are from poor homes and are living with poor grandmothers, so the child grows up in a poor environment and this explains why many of them take to prostitution to provide for their children,” says Dr Masai.
The cost in figures
The State of World Population 2022 says teenage pregnancies decrease household incomes and jeopardize the country’s strategy for achieving a demographic dividend, which is built around adolescents and young people being healthy, educated, and skilled to contribute to the economy
The Minister of State Planning, Mr Amos Lugoloobi says teenage pregnancies are a global issue but most often occur in poorer and marginalised communities and that many girls face considerable pressure to marry early and become mothers while they are still children themselves.
“If no action is taken, more girls will get pregnant and die in childbirth, more girls will not complete their education and Government expenditure on health care for teen mothers will more than double,” Mr Lugoloobi said.
Prisca in her own words laments that maintaining the baby and herself at the grandmother’s place is very difficult given the limited financial resources.
Another teenage mother said that she does not have a job to support herself and the baby and expressed her concern about living in poverty.
A 2021 report by NPA, UNFPA, NPC, and the Netherlands government 2021 says that at the individual level, per capita reproductive health; what each teenage mother spends is 280 UD on herself and the baby’s health care.
The report says that per capita expenditure for minor health care of a child per episode is estimated at Shs 29, 645 [8 USD].
‘And at macro health care level families of teenage mothers in 2020 spent UGX 1.8 trillion [USD290m] on sexual reproductive health and estimated health family expenditure on teenage mothers [both public and private] was USD 70m,” the report says in part.
Dr Jonathan Wangisi, the DHO Mbale says teenage pregnancy comes with social and economic costs that are borne by a range of institutions starting with individuals [teenage mothers] and households at the micro level.
He adds that the impact of violence against women and girls translates into setbacks on human capital development, drains national resources in the huge cost of response services, lost productivity, and at the worst loss of lives, which ultimately deter the nation from achieving the Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs) targets.
Exploring the cost of inaction on teenage pregnancy, Dr. Betty Kyadondo, Director of Family Health at the National Population Council (NPC), during a media engagement noted that the Out-of-pocket expenditure of 1.28 trillion Shs (362.5 million USD) on health care by teen mothers is equivalent to 43% of the Ministry of Health budget.
“If no action is taken, teenage pregnancy about 60% of teenage mothers will end up in peasant agriculture work,” she warned.
Dr. Betty Kyadondo added that annually more than 645billion Shs (184million USD) will be spent on health care for teenage mothers and the education of their children.
Ms Anne Sizomu, the Programme Specialist- Adolescent and Youth Sexual and Reproductive Health at UNFPA said ending teenage pregnancy requires a multi-sectoral approach where everyone is involved, as this will help to reduce the level of dependency of children born by teenagers.
“Most of the time, the adolescents who are getting pregnant are not income earners, they are children. When we have many getting pregnant in one year, very few will make it out of subsistence agriculture. Therefore, the cycle of poverty will continue and the chances of children of teenage mothers being able to go to school, with the existence of Universal Primary Education (UPE) may be very minimal,” she added.
She revealed that teenage pregnancies contribute to 20% of infant deaths and 28% of maternal deaths and that it negatively impacts social-economic development at the individual, family, and country levels.
“It is an enduring bottleneck to attaining the Sustainable development Goals (SDGs),” Ms Sizomu says.
While launching a report entitled; The cost of inaction, the economic and social burden of teenage pregnancy in Uganda by UNFPA, April 2022, Prime Minister Ms Robinah Nabbanja said it had been established that due to financial constraints, teenage mothers were more likely to suffer health consequences such as nutritional deficiencies for the young mothers.
“And this at times has resulted into these girls producing premature and underweight babies, having birth complications which make them undergo caesarian section,” said Ms Nabbanja.
She revealed that it is not only the teenage mothers that are affected economically but also the parents and community at large.
Ms Nabbanja added that the social challenges which the girls face included social stigma, discrimination, dropping out of school being disowned and chased away from their families, teenage mothers also suffer emotional consequences such as isolation, frustration, shame, and devastation due to disappointment by the partners.
“And parents on the other hand suffer disgrace, shame, and social isolation due to their daughters getting pregnant at an early age,” said Ms Nabbanja.