Fifteen-year-old Rehema Nangobi carries her four-month-old baby as she follows her parents and siblings to their garden.
Her mother, Aisha Babirye, a mother of six, also carries her six-month-old strapped to her back.
Rehema and her mother place their babies under a tree, leaving her four-year-old sister and a six-year-old brother to watch them as her parents and older children work.
Rehema told Anadolu Agency she was in Primary 6 before a lockdown was imposed on the county.
’’I was impregnated by my uncle. He was staying with us in our home. He threatened to kill me if I told anyone that he had defiled me. When he learned that I had become pregnant, he ran away, and up to now, I don’t know where he is,” she said.
Rehema lives with her parents in Namwiwa village in the Luuka district in eastern Uganda — one of the areas with the highest number of girls assaulted and impregnated during the ongoing lockdown.
The official in charge of child affairs in the area said in the last year and a half, more than 750 underage girls have given birth in Luuka.
Rehema is not alone. Thousands of girls in Uganda have given birth under similar circumstances.
In the capital of Kampala, Esther Namuli, 16, has a 5-month-old fathered by her stepfather.
“It is unfortunate that our district has many young girls with babies and many are pregnant. The main reason why they are getting pregnant is that they are not going to school. For some time, children have not been going to school, so they have all the time to go for adventures and to misbehave,” said Namwiwa’s village chief Hassan Baliruno.
He said apart from engaging in sex with fellow students, many lustful men in villages also entice young girls into sex by offering presents and money.
“The only way to save the girls from getting pregnant is by opening schools so that they go back to study. While they are at school, they have no time to go in funny places from where they are defiled and impregnated,” said Livingstone Naitema, a retired headmaster in Luuka.
He said under normal circumstances, students go to school at 8 a.m. and leave at 5 p.m. By the time they reach home, they have no time to go out to misbehave. But is saddened that there are girls defiled and impregnated by their relatives, including fathers.
Wilberforce Mugira, a parent with a 15-year-old girl who is pregnant, said: “I was shocked when I learned that my daughter had been impregnated by a 40-year-old man. The man was arrested and jailed, but now I have the burden of looking after the daughter.”
The rise in teen pregnancies has caused worry for the government and parents.
According to a police report, 14,220 children were defiled throughout the country in 2020. There were 14,080 girls and 140 boys, with 1,280 under the age of 9; 2,980 between 9 and 14 and 9,954 between 15 and 17.
Since then, the situation has worsened, with more than 9,000 underage girls impregnated last year, according to the Ministry of Gender, Labor and Social Development.
That has led the first lady Janet Museveni, who is also education minister, to come up with a program to stop rising teen pregnancies.
While addressing reporters recently, she said she was starting a program to help curb the rising cases of teen pregnancies and protect children against abuse.
The program, Uganda Youth Convention, involves teens, mostly from schools. It will hold periodic retreats and discuss issues for responsible living, including reproductive health.
“It is time to reconsider a partnership with the Gender Ministry to help in the protection of adolescents,” said Museveni.
She decried abuse against children and the impregnation of underage girls.
“Many criminal elements within some of our families and communities have taken advantage of the situation to abuse the rights of our children,’’ she said.
President Yoweri Museveni, during an address to the nation concerning COVID-19 lockdowns, regretted that many underage girls had become mothers and many others were pregnant.
He requested schools not expel students who give birth during the pandemic when schools reopen in January.