WEST NILE LEADERS COMMIT TO MITIGATE IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON THE GIRL-CHILD

Women Members of Parliament from West Nile signing the commitments

BY RICHARD DRASIMAKU

ARUA: WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 10, 2021

In most rural settings of West Nile, parents head to the trading centres in the evening hours to drink and pass time with colleagues at local brew joints.

The merry sometimes goes up-to the midnight, ignoring a standing presidential directive on a dusk-to-dawn curfew.

Geoffrey Aniku, the assistant chief administrative officer for Terego district says as the parents drown in the night merry, sip and get tipsy, they leave young children unguided at home.

“The underage children are left unmonitored and unprotected. Then they start wondering around and indulge in unwanted behavior,” he said.

“Can we start criminalizing night movements and enforce President Museveni’s directive on curfew?” he proposed.

He was reacting to a report by the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) Uganda chapter about the impact of Covid-19 on school going girls and young women, summarized in a policy brief for the West Nile leaders.

The brief was delivered to the leaders including women members of parliament, the resident district commissioners, chief administrative officers, LC5 chairpersons and Mayors as well as education officials and police officers at Muni University on Tuesday.

FAWE Executive Director, Susan Tumusiime, said two districts in West Nile -Arua and Adjumani- were among the 25 districts sampled for the research.

FAWE executive director, Susan Tumusiime

A total of 6,394 young children were interviewed, consisting of 3,258 girls and 3,136 boys and the findings were chilling.

For instance there was found to be a 22.5% increase in pregnancy among girls aged 10-24 seeking antenatal care in the first three months of the lockdown, and about 2.8% of the young girls and 3% of the boys were either encouraged or pressured by their parents or caregivers to get married during Covid-19.

In probing the drivers of engagement in sexual activity, FAWE found that 85.3% of the children simply wanted to have sex while 2.6% reported having being forced to have sex in exchange for money or were raped.

At least 2% of the young people had sex in exchange for basic needs while 0.6% was forced into sex by parents.

More worryingly, 67% of girls were sexually abused by close relatives and friends and 78.9% girls and 77.9% boys who experienced sexual abuse during the pandemic did not report for fear or self blame.

This made it easy for dowry hungry parents to marry them off and the girls got pregnant.

It is this situation that prompted the leaders to ask if the home is not a safe place for children, then, where does their safety lie.

Accordingly, they signed a raft of commitments to ensure that the adverse impact of Covid-19 pandemic on the girl-child is mitigated and their education, health and safety is guaranteed.

These include localizing the findings of the FAWE research by discussing them in district social services committees and incorporating action points into the plans of the districts, amending education ordinances and bylaws to be responsive to the challenges brought by Covid-19.

They also committed to conduct general awareness campaign and discussions on girl-child education and support to school dropouts and providing resources for psychosocial support among others.

Lillian Obiale, the Arua district woman Member of Parliament pledged that MPs from the region would be rallied to support a pending bill in Parliament aimed at streamlining support to young children and school dropouts.

She urged the local leaders to ensure that their interventions target both boys and girls, reasoning that no girl gets pregnant without involvement of a male counterpart.

Obiale added that while they focus on giving the drop-out girls a second chance of education, they should not forget that the baby got as a result of early pregnancy must be given the first chance to breastfeed for six months.

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