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World Population Day: Experts call for keeping children in school and training dropouts to combat teenage pregnancies

ARUA – Teenage pregnancy remains a challenge in Uganda, affecting not only the lives of the victims, but also the development of the country as a whole. At 25%, Uganda has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in sub-Saharan Africa.

Every July 11thHeUganda joins the rest of the world in commemorating World Population Day to raise awareness, advocate for reproductive rights and promote policies and programmes that support sustainable development and the well-being of all people.

This year’s national celebrations are being held in Arua, West Nile, under the theme: “Celebrating the Past while Planning for the Future to Meet the Needs of All.”

During a Youth Dialogue ahead of World Population Day, Dr Rogers Ampwera, Executive Director of the Naguru Adolescent Information and Health Centre (NTIHC), noted that while stakeholders have made several strides in ending teenage pregnancies, the vice still has a high rate in the subregion.

The dialogue aimed to raise awareness on demographic dividend issues affecting youth in the subregion, identify interventions to address them, and solicit commitments from leaders in the subregion on how to invest in interventions to harness the demographic dividend.

She says the subregion still faces the problem of child marriage as one of the causes of teenage pregnancies, but also high school dropout rates.

“Many of them do not enter secondary education after primary school, which exposes them. We need to rally West Nile leaders to effectively support government programs, especially universal primary and secondary education, because we know that every year a secondary school student stays in school reduces the chances of getting pregnant by six percent.”

“So if we can get them up to sixth grade, we can most likely reduce teenage pregnancies by more than 50%,” she said, adding: “Similarly, if we can empower young people, especially those who are out of school, we have seen that with financial independence, repeat teenage pregnancies are also reduced by more than 38%.”

In collaboration with Arua Town and Madi-Okollo, the Naguru Adolescent Centre has identified several vulnerable adolescent girls and young women, organised them into groups and supported them through loan schemes.

Dr Ampwera explained that they have since formed 62 savings schemes, each with 30 members who save as little money as they can, and the largest has been able to save about Sh15 million in two years.

“Through these groups we have seen growth in terms of access to health services because they have weekly discussions about health, financial and social needs and address them collectively.”

She added that they have been able to support four young people per group in training (mechanics, salon, gastronomy, bakery, carpentry) to whom they then give tool kits so that they can start earning and save again in their savings schemes.

“This program is underway and we believe that each year we can select four more per group and when we close the project, we will have trained all the members of the groups.”

Dr. Ampwera says the results of the newly released population census, which show that children between 0 and 17 years constitute more than 50%, signify a dependency that poses a major challenge to the country’s development.

He called for improving human capital development, health services and training for young people so that they can be productive in the future.

Dr. Rodgers Ampwera, Executive Director of the Naguru Adolescent Health and Information Centre during the conference (PHOTO/Courtesy).

At the event, Samuel Omwa, Acting Director General of the National Population Council, said Uganda has seen significant changes in the demographic and development landscape, increasing from 5 million in 1950 to 45.9 million in 2024 and projected to reach 103 million in 2050.

According to him, mortality is declining and infant mortality has dropped from 122 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1991 to 36 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2022. Fertility, which for a long time exceeded 7 children, has also decreased from 7.4 in 1991 to 5.2 in 2022 and life expectancy has increased from 43 years in 1991 to 68 years in 2022.

“All this is due to the government’s investments in health, education, economy and good governance.”

Results from the recent 2024 census show that Uganda’s population is growing rapidly, with 45,935,046 people, at a growth rate of 2.9%. Omwa noted that this population growth rate creates an unfavourable age structure that prevents harnessing the demographic dividend for socio-economic transformation and the realisation of Uganda’s Vision 2040.

Like Dr Ampwera, he agreed that the predominant youth population implies a high number of dependent youth, which poses enormous challenges.

However, he noted that a large population of young adults represents a potential workforce that can boost growth through increased productivity and innovation.

“Young adults tend to have higher levels of consumption, which can stimulate economic activity in various sectors, such as retail, entertainment, and housing, among others. Investing in education and skills development for young people between the ages of 18 and 30 can generate a more educated and skilled workforce, which is crucial for sustained economic development.”

Ms. Gift Malunga, UNFPA Representative in Uganda, called for using data-driven decision-making and evidence-based planning to achieve their national development plans and accelerate the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

“As Uganda strives to achieve middle-income status by 2040, it is prudent to place data at the centre of our development agenda, as accurate, reliable and timely data are the lifeblood of informed decision-making, effective problem-solving and sustainable progress.”

She added: “On this day, it is also important to reflect on the issue and how data can be used as a tool to address disparities and inequalities in order to foster a culture of inclusion and diversity and meet the sexual and reproductive health needs of all, including women and girls.”

“The importance of data for development cannot be overstated. Let us harness the power of data to drive progress, accountability and sustainable development. By embracing and leveraging data, we can create an equitable future for all and address inequality,” said Malunga.

However, she noted that while data is critical to driving progress on sexual and reproductive health and rights, it has also exposed gaps. She said access to sexual and reproductive health remains hampered by inequalities within systems and societies due to gender, disability, socioeconomic status, geographic location and other factors.

She stressed the importance of sexual and reproductive health and gender equality in unlocking Uganda’s full potential to create a more just and equitable society for a prosperous and sustainable future.

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