Motorcycle taxi riders commonly known as bodabodas transport school girls in exchange for sex, contributing to the high number of teenage pregnancies in Bunyoro sub-region.
The region’s pregnancy rate shows that a total of 70,357 adolescent girls got pregnant in 2021/2022 financial year, accounting for 14.3% of pregnancies.
In a survey conducted by Uganda Human Rights Commission in 2021, 430 (39.5%) respondents out of a total of 1,089 people named bodabodas as top perpetrators of teenage pregnancy.
Peer influence contributed 16.9% teenage pregnancy, businessmen (8.6%), teachers (10.2%), relatives (11.4%), neighbours (5.7%), child labour (3.4%) and fishermen (4.1%).
The COVID-19 pandemic-induced school closures which increased idleness, poor parenting, poverty, child labour, incest, early marriages, cultural practices and beliefs, proximity to the perpetrators and limited access to contraceptives, were also cited as the causes of teenage pregnancy.
It was also reported that bodabodas rarely use condoms with many of them assuming that young girls are free of HIV/AIDS, a behavior that is thought to be driving the spread of HIV/AIDS among teenagers.
The study was conducted in the districts of Hoima, Buliisa, Hoima City, Kikuube, Masindi, Kibaale, Kiryandongo, Kakumiro and Kagadi.
Reacting to the findings of the UHRC survey, experts have told The Albertine Journal that young girls who move long distances to and from school are the most prone to the lure of bodabodas.
“Most of them are from poor families who cannot afford to pay transport fares and the riders seem to have learnt to convince by giving them free lifts,” said Andrew Gucwaki a resident of Masindi municipality.
Gucwaki agrees that high proportion of bodabodas engage in risky sexual behaviours with multiple partners without using condoms which also increases chances of HIV/AIDS transmission.
Jashmin Nambi Kasujja, the Hoima regional human rights officer, calls for increased sensitisation of adolescents on the dangers of teenage pregnancy because it carries huge implications on the social and economic development of the country.
Kasujja said child marriages and teenage pregnancies are not only depriving adolescents of their childhood but also education, mental and physical wellbeing.
The regional human rights officer also warns that the increasing cases of child marriages and teenage pregnancies across the country may hinder national efforts to achieve national development goals.
Kasujja identified child marriages, early pregnancy and forced marriages as an escalator to deprive survivors of their right to health due to complications in childbirth.
Teen mothers have been reported as the biggest number of people getting birth related injuries due to prolonged obstructed labour, especially when their pelvis is too small or the baby is too big for a normal delivery.
The other downside is that when a girl becomes pregnant, she is denied her right to education since most teenage mothers dropout of school and miss out learning.
“There is also denial of right to parental care because when a teen mother gives birth, she assumes the responsibility of childcare, whereas she is also a child requiring care,” explained Kasujja.
She added that in the extreme case, the teen mothers are deprived of their right to life when they die during labour due to pregnancy related complications such as infections, malaria and delays in accessing medical services.
The United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) in its 2022 report “State of World Population,” observed that young girls’ ability to decide when and whom to have children is brutally constrained through early pregnancies.
Gucwaki has said that the solution to end bodaboda orchestrated teenage pregnancies lies in keeping the girl-child in boarding schools.
This would in turn save them from household chores in order to concentrate on their education.
Harriet Kihumuro, Hoima district education officer, speaking during a stakeholders’ engagement at Resort Hotel in Hoima City organised by Uganda Human Rights Commission on October 3, 2022, advocated for mindset change campaigns led by religious leaders.
Kihumuro argued that involvement of the religious leaders when it comes to prevention of teenage pregnancies is crucial because of the clout they hold in society and to ensure that their preaching is aligned with what is practical.
She recalled that some religious leaders previously showed disdain for reproductive health education and birth control by preaching against the use of condoms and contraceptives by adolescents.
“We need to talk to the clergy on how to tune well the sensitisation message like when do we introduce sex education and at what age. When we keep quiet, it is us who will suffer for not telling our children what to do when nature calls,” said Kihumuro.
To Joseph Matovu, a district community development officer for Kibaale, who asserts that teenage pregnancies contribute to 80% of school dropouts, all efforts should be geared towards taking children to school and keeping at school.
He said this can be done through mindset change to make the community know the value of educating a girlchild.
But Monic Kahwa, a development analyst in Hoima City, differs holding that such views have pushed duty bearers to empower the girls more than boys.
“An educated and informed boy cannot make a girl pregnant; it is the poor and ill-educated boys,” she argued.
Kahwa added: “We have so much tended to support and emphasise girl child education and not bothered to empower the boychild on gender-based violence and sexual harassment.
Even boys are sexually harassed by girls who end up luring them into sex and the girls become pregnant.”
She noted that there is also the practice of communities opting to settle most pregnancies out of police and courts which is escalating the vice and called for an end to such practice.
She said in such incidences when the family of the boy pays, the girl is the greatest sufferer because she may not go back to school.
Ismail Kusemererwa, the executive director of Mid-Western Anti-Corruption Coalition (MIRAC), made reference to president Joe Biden while commenting on government’s inaction to invest in psychosocial support to rehabilitate survivors of teenage pregnancies and prevention mechanism despite its burden on the economy.
“Do not tell me what you value. Show me your budget and I will tell you what you value,” Kusemererwa quoted the US President.