In Uganda, over two-fifths of young women end up in underage or forced marriages and early pregnancy is common. According to the UN’s child agency, UNICEF, the country also has one of the highest population growth rates, with Ugandan women having an average of 6.2 children in 2011.
The problem of early marriage is particularly acute in the Karamoja district in northern Uganda. Karamoja is the country’s poorest province, although government bodies and agencies have been working hard to reduce poverty and aid dependency among the region’s one million inhabitants.
A new report in the Guardian highlights the work of one non-governmental organisation (NGO) in trying to tackle early marriage and pregnancies among teenagers and young women in Karamoja. BRAC, a Bangladeshi NGO, has established youth clubs in the region which are aimed specifically at girls (aged 13 upwards). The clubs have been set up with the backing of village leaders across the remote settlements of Karamoja.
The youth clubs provide a place where girls can socialise in safety, but also a place where they can discuss issues such as rape, HIV/AIDS and family planning. Each club selects a young mentor from the community, who is trained by BRAC to hold group discussions. The key message which the youth clubs aim to promote is that girls should consider that early marriage or early pregnancy often ends in poverty. With support from other members of the club, BRAC hopes to counter the peer pressure in Uganda for girls to enter into relationships at an early age.
So far, more than 1,200 youth clubs have been established, catering for around 50,000 girls. Besides sex education and relationship issues, girls can also access other kinds of advice and help, such as skills training. Early feedback from club-run programmes covering nearly 5,000 girls have seen the rate of self-employed young members rising from around 6% to 32%. So for example, in one village near the town of Mbale, one nineteen year-old single mother has used her time at the youth club to help further her doughnut-making business. The father of her child doesn’t want to support her in any way. But Nambuya Mloajuma seems undaunted and tells the Guardian that with the help and encouragement of the youth club, she has already saved a small chunk of money and will keep saving “to open a small bakery shop” in the future.