Greetings, my young friends and welcome to yet another week. Thank you for your feedback on last week’s topic. I was happy to note that some of you appreciated and were refreshed by my encouragement on how God has the last word in our lives. Now, this week and last, social media have been awash with girls as young as twelve years carrying babies. As usual, many of these pictures carried rude and sarcastic comments on the role of the Government in all this.
Let me start by saying that children cannot be mothers. Seeing what is happening to the girl child makes my heart bleed, it leaves a wound on my conscience. This problem has been exacerbated by the prolonged closure of schools, there is no doubt about that. However, for me, that is where the problem lies – why our children cannot be safe at home. What has happened to the family?
The family is the basic unit of society which God primarily ordained to nurture the children and prepare them to be responsible citizens, a responsibility that cannot be completely delegated to any other stakeholder, not even the Government.
What hurts most is that the same people who are supposed to protect the children are the perpetrators of these crimes. If you follow the stories behind these rampant teenage pregnancies you will be shocked to discover that there is a close relative involved or another authority figure in the child’s life.
I know that we are living in very hard economic times, and so as parents struggle to make ends meet, children are left unattended to. They have unsupervised access to sensual/sexual programmes on TVs, gadgets and radios and that has encouraged sexual experimentation even for the younger ones.
The impact of having an unwanted child at an age where the body has not even matured to go through that process has adverse effects on our children ranging from health complications, let alone the added risk of complications during childbirth that may lead to death in some cases.
This is a problem that we must candidly speak about and find lasting home-grown solutions. Let us stop politicizing this vice that is denying our young people a future and a healthy life.
In the past, we have had other people from outside prescribing solutions for us and I have personally had problems with some of those prescriptions. Some of them have advocated for teenage clinics. My question has always been: If you have a dangerous corner on the highway where many accidents occur, do you buy more ambulances to ferry accident victims or do you get to the root cause of the accidents and try to solve it?
I remember when growing up, the entire community had the responsibility to parent us; a neighbour had the authority to punish a child from another home if they found them doing the wrong thing. Where has this corporate responsibility vanished to? Raising children was a shared responsibility in our communities, we respected elders, and children were protected by even strangers.
This is my appeal, my young friends, can we get to the real cause of this problem? Can we candidly discuss this without any political lenses? These are our children we are talking about.
Today, 11th October, we commemorate the International Day of the Girl Child. My prayer is that on this day and throughout this week, as young people, mothers, grandmothers, fathers, uncles, teachers, headteachers, religious leaders, cultural leaders, politicians, security forces, we shall take time to reflect on the girl child and what we can do to solve this vice.
What is our role in ensuring a safe haven for our girls? What went wrong? What must we do right?
It is now evident that it is no longer only the girl child that is at risk; our young boys have also fallen victims to this premature sexual activity. How can we keep the innocence of our children so that they can enjoy their childhood? If our children cannot be safe in their homes, where will they be safe? We must act now!
I will be waiting to hear your thoughts on this very disturbing trend.
Janet Kataha Museveni
The author is First Lady and Minister of Education and Sports