The bad cultural practices of parents rallying and encouraging men to take the virginity of school girls for prestige are hampering their future development in Ntoroko, district of Western Uganda.
Soul Ayebale, 20 years old of Kyangabukama, Nombe Sub County said, “I was convinced to take the virginities, and one time I landed on a 17-year-old girl. After taking her virginity, I got her pregnant, I abandoned her.”
However, Ayebale said he regrets the bad practices that left the young girl suffering because he could not manage looking after her. He is now asking the parents and his fellow youth to refrain from the bad practices that not only ruin the girls’ future but also the boys.
Moses Nyakoojo, 27 of Matali, said cases of child marriage and teenage pregnancy are rampant. “Yes, cases of teenage marriages are common here. This is because the parents are greedy for dowry and there is high moral decay,” he said. “But I warn parents against prioritizing wealth at the expense of their daughters, and also they should spare time to talk to children.”
A 17-year-old girl from Kabimbiri, Haibaale parish, Bweramule sub county said she was first raped by a man in the neighborhood when she was in primary school. She explained that when she reported the matter to their parents, they forced her into marriage, but to her dismay, the man sent her away.
The victim, who says she has no hope of returning to school, also said she is languishing in poverty and demands the government to give her something to empower her.
“I was defiled in P.5 and later the parents negotiated with the man, paid dowry and forced me to get married to him,” said a 16 year old in Ntoroku primary school. “Now the man beats me daily, and I blame my parents for being greedy for dowry which has led to the suffering of many young girls.
I need help from the government or an NGO to empower me. I can even go back to school if I get the support,” she added.
Eric Sabiiti LCI chairperson Kabimbiri and Muramago Paul LCI Kyangabukama zone Bweramule Sub County, said that parents marry off their daughters as early as 12 years in exchange for cows adding that the Covid 19 lockdown worsened the situation and many girls were married off silently and hundreds got pregnant. They admitted there has been laxity, but this time they will embark on arresting men suspected of defilement and parents who connive with the perpetrators.
The Ugandan Penal Code Act defines defilement as “unlawful … sexual intercourse with a girl under the age of eighteen years” and makes the offense punishable by death (para. 129(1)).
According to the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda 1995, as amended to 2018 · 1. A man and a woman are entitled to marry only if they are each of the age of eighteen years and above and are entitled at that age a. to found a family; and b. to equal rights at and in marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
Eddy Kabugho the district vice chairperson who doubles as secretary for Health and Education noted that teenage marriages have impacted on the lives of many young girls after losing education and are victims of domestic violence.
Stephen Mutegeki, District Probation and Welfare Officer Ntoroko disclosed that the practices of early marriages and teenage pregnancy are rampant in the district, adding that the situation worsened during the Covid-19 lockdown.
According to Mutegeki, between January –October 2021, the district registered 944 cases of teenage pregnancies and many went unreported to the police.
He said, “ Karugutu Town Council was leading with 180 cases, Nombe Sub County 137, Kanara 126, Kanara Town Council 96, Butungama 85, Karugutu S/C 71, Bweramule 69, Rwebisengo S/C 67, Rwebisengo Town Council 65 and Kibuuku Town Council 04”.
Mutegeki said, “Majority of these girls got married off according to the information obtained at Health facilities. Disappointingly, only 6 cases were recorded to the police and only three perpetrators were apprehended”.
The Probation Officer attributed the problem of early marriage to the cultural practice of the Batuuku tribe marrying off their young girls for dowry and connivance of parents with the perpetrators.
“ We strongly condemn the vice, but we have embarked on massive sensitization of the public on the importance of educating the girl children and the dangers of early marriages to change their cultural perception,” Mutekeki said.
Noah Masereka the Principal District Community Development Officer explained that the issue of early marriages is exacerbated by the culture of the Batuuku who believe that when a man takes the virginity of a girl, he becomes prestigious and the auntie offers cows as an appreciation.
He said, “The Bakonzo culture believes in marrying off their girls at 12-13 years, which has left many girls out of school and caused poverty. The parents are ravenous for cows”.
Masereka said the practice has left many girls abandoned, become young mothers, and many are victims of poverty and domestic violence.
He however said, “This is a big problem here. But as a district we have hired a lawyer to draft an ordinance that we believe would catch everyone involved in marrying off girls before 18 years hence reduce the vice”.
Ivan Busobozi the Ag. Deputy Chief Administrative Officer acknowledged that early marriage and teenage pregnancy are a big problem and are escalated by the economic activities such as fishing and trade of cattle.
To avert it, Busobozi said the district is evoking the children’s act and the enactment of the ordinance will ensure children’s rights are protected, and the perpetrators arrested and prosecuted in courts of law.
Patrick Byaruhanga the District Health Educator Ntoroko condemns and discourages the culture of taking girls for brides which ruins their future system when they are abandoned and chased away by their partners.
He however said, they are continuing to educate the people on the bad cultures, the dangers of teenage pregnancies and encourage the victims to go for antenatal care and deliver from the health facilities to avoid complications and death.
But Joshua Ibanda the District Inspector of Schools revealed that as a department they were overwhelmed by the high numbers of early marriages. He, however, said they are working with partners to convince parents to return the girls to school, noting that senior women and male teachers have been trained to handle the young mothers in school to avoid stigma and discrimination.
Peter Sunday Rusoke the Gender and Culture minister Tooro Kingdom condemned the act of marrying off the young girls but said the kingdom has embarked on mobilizing clan leaders and Amasaza (county chiefs) to start educating the people on the outlawed cultural practices that affects the girls’ growth and development.