In Bugiri district, stories are told of young girls who elope with truck drivers in pursuit of success, only to return to their parent’s homes pregnant and forsaken.
Why? The truck drivers have achieved their selfish desires and taken off for other preys. Never to be seen again!
Bugiri, located in Eastern Uganda, is one of the most impoverished districts in the country with poor infrastructure and poor living conditions, perhaps the reason why it has one of the highest numbers of child marriages, with over 200 girls below the age of 18 giving birth annually according to a UNFPA survey.
Over 200 girls below the age of 18 giving birth annually according to a UNFPA survey.
18-year-old Mutesi Zalika is one of the many victims that fell prey to the shrewd antics of the cunning truck drivers.
“In February last year (2013) I joined primary seven but my grandmother could not raise the required thirty thousand shillings (USD$12) for me to enrol. Surprisingly, my school, Butumba primary school is a government school where education is supposed to be free but they made us pay this money,” Zalika narrates.
‘’I stay with my grandmother together with 4 other siblings. All our parents died and its granny that raised us up. When I left school I stayed home for several weeks hoping to return back soon but granny could not get the money,” she says.
For long there had been a truck driver in our neighbourhood who always assured me that if I slept with him, all my financial worries would be over. I persisted for long but as time went by I eventually gave in.’’
At this point Zalika’s grandmother Zawuma Timujirwa, who all along had been seated quietly taking in everything from her grand daughter, interjects. She speaks with a lot of heaviness and grief on her face.
‘‘On that fateful day the two met, I had travelled to visit my ailing sister. I spent there 6 weeks and I was shocked to find Zalika pregnant. I felt like dying because I was sacrificing every little thing I had to see her through. I even alerted police about it but it was too late, he had long left the area.
‘”And what hurt me most was that this truck driver waited for me to go away and then take advantage of my grandchild. He took off after learning that she was pregnant, minus even giving her the money he had allegedly promised. He even shifted from his rented one-roomed house. Now Zalika is home,looking after her 7 months old baby, who may never see his dad.’’
Zalika’s story however is just one among many in the district. What makes other similar stories unique in their own saddening approach is that in some, mothers have had to push their teen-age daughters to sleep with elderly men for money.
Kabonesa Agnes is one such girl. She said her moving story at the launch of the End child marriage campaign by World Vision in Bugiri.
‘’I made 15 years while in S.2 and thenbegun going into my menstrual cycles. I grew up with mum and it was many of us at home. One evening I walked up to her asked for money to buy sanitary pads. Her response was; ‘what don’t you have that can please a man to give you what you need as a girl?’
‘’I was confused and frightened because I saw myself very young to be in a relationship. So whenever I went into my periods I would either stay at home or sit in class from morning to evening. But this was coupled with a lot of shame and fear from my classmates who would avoid me and point fingers at me. My mum would also chase me from home during those times, saying I should find where to go.
‘’Some man in the neighbourhood who was aware of what I was going through approached me for sex, in return for money.”
‘’I rejected him for close to 4 months but eventually gave in as pressure mounted on me both at home and school. He made me pregnant and when my mum learnt of it, she went to the boy’s family, asked for a cow, a sack of cassava and fifty thousand shillings (USD $20) as my dowry.
‘’Consequently the boy came and took me to stay with him as his wife. Life was very hard and I don’t remember a day I did not cry. I later gave birth but the baby died after 7 hours. I went back to my mum’s home but she sent me away. I then sought refuge at a nearby church where I met a Good Samaritan that took me in. She spoke to me a lot about my future and eventually introduced me to World Vision Soroti’’
‘’World Vision offered to take me back to school on ground that my mum accepted to have me study from home but she refused, telling me to go away from her home
‘’Word Vision then took me to a boarding school where I studied up to senior 6. I completed secondary education last year and this year am joining University to pursue my bachelors degree in Education, with support from World Vision.’’
Kabonesa is one lucky girl who has managed to find light at the end of her tunnel. Several others have ended up dropping out of school and finding other men to formally stay with them.
It’s out of this and many other similar cases that World Vision launched the National End child-marriage campaign in Bugiri district, appealing to all parents across the country to desist from justifying child marriage for any reason.
‘‘We must curb this shameful vice; we need to partner and work together. Let us not simply talk about it. We need to act and this is the time. Ending child marriage starts with an individual. Its starts with you, and me,” noted Gilbert Kamanga the World Vision Uganda National director.
The guest of honour, state minister for gender, labour and social developmentRukia Nakadama while officiating at the function that attracted hundreds of locals, district leaders, area members of parliament, religious and cultural leaders, applauded World Vision for taking lead role in the fight against Child Marriages:
‘’74% of girls in Busoga sub-region alone are forced into marriage, meaning only 26% have an opportunity to complete school or have a say about their future. Parents you have done a lot to promote this vice claiming you want to get money,” Ms Nakadama said adding: “It’s such a shame. Most of you do not report these cases to police but choose to settle for payments in kind. Some of you fathers here even sleep with your own daughters during day and at night sleep with their mothers. What is it that you want from an innocent soul? As government we are doing all we can to fight for the girl child but we need support from partners and good will from the masses.’’
In this campaign, World Vision is to carry out national level dialogue on child marriage with Members of Parliament, ministers, religious leaders, task district council sessions to discuss child protection issues, hold community discussions to empower locals and girls in risks of early marriages and advantages of staying in School.
World Vision is to also conduct several Radio and TV talk shows across the country to reach out to wider publics about the risks involved with Child marriages, on both the children and societies where they live.