Archive for October 15th, 2012

On December 19, 2011, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 66/170 to declare October 11 as the International Day of the Girl Child, to recognize that empowerment of and investment in girls is  critical for economic growth and  the achievement of all Millennium Development Goals, including the eradication of poverty and extreme poverty, as well as the meaningful participation of girls in decisions that affect them, are key in breaking the cycle of discrimination and violence and in promoting and protecting the full and effective enjoyment of their human rights, and recognizing also that empowering girls requires their active participation in decision-making processes and the active support and engagement of their parents, legal guardians, families and care providers, as well as boys and men and the wider community,

The Resolution further  calls on  all Member States, relevant organizations of the United Nations system and other international organizations, as well as civil society, to observe the International Day of the Girl Child, and to raise awareness of the situation of girls around the world;

For its first observance, this year’s Day focused on child marriage, which is a fundamental human rights violation and impacts all aspects of a girl’s life. Child marriage denies a girl of her childhood, disrupts her education, limits her opportunities, increases her risk to be a victim of violence and abuse, jeopardizes her health and therefore constitutes an obstacle to the achievement of nearly every Millennium Development Goal (MDG) and the development of healthy communities.

Child marriage

From AWID Friday File, child marriage is most prevalent in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, there are 60 million child-brides the world over – 25 000 each day – many wed to men more than twice their senior. It is also common in Latin America and the Caribbean, where 29% of girls between 15-24 are married before reaching 18. Overall, 82 million girls in developing countries will be married before they turn 18.

In Uganda the day was celebrated under the theme “Too young to marry. End Child marriage and Teenage Pregnancy. The celebrations were spearheaded by the Ministry of Gender and Plan International in campaign Because I am a Girl

According to Isis-WICCE research on Child marriages in Kasese, almost every home in Kasese has a child mother or a girl who had been defiled and only 70% of young mothers only accessed primary level education. The controlled mobility of child mothers restricts them from accessing education and realizing their full potential. Therefore, child marriage entrenches the vicious cycle of poverty, illiteracy and underdevelopment.

Cultural norms also dictate that at birth, a girl child  is booked for marriage and earmarked for trade in exchange for dowry. At five years, she is sent away for grooming to her in laws to-be and at her first menstrual period between 8-12 years she is married off.

I got married at 15 years to a 43 year old man in 2008. My parents forced me into marriage because they wanted to get money. It was a traditional wedding”. a child mother in Kasese.

This  story represents many voices of child mothers in Kasese.  Is all hope lost, is n’t there redemption out there? Let this landmark  of the Day of the Girl Child be the first step towards eradicating this vice by investing in girls’ education. The  Chineese say   a journey of a 1000 miles starts with the first step.

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The Rwenzori region derives its name from the famous Rwenzori Mountain, a block mountain in Western Uganda.  The name Rwenzori is a word in a local dialect that means “the rainmaker”. The region comprises of 5 districts namely: Kasese, Kabarole, Bundibugyo, Kyenjojo and Kamwenge and is neighboring the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Like any other region in  Uganda, the  Rwenzori region has had  its share of  armed conflicts. Ever since Uganda got its independence in 1962, the region has witnessed a number of civil wars in the form of guerilla warfare. Several rebel groups have operated in this region including the Rwenzururu, National Resistance Army, National Army for the Liberation of Uganda  and Allied Democratic Forces.

The impact of ADF rebellion on civilians was devastating as it led to internal massive displacement. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 105,000 people were displaced in Bundibugyo in  and 18,000 were displaced in Kasese between 2000 and 2002. Many people were   killed and villages set a blaze.  Indiscriminate acts of violence perpetrated against the communities especially women still linger in their faces

Joyce who is  a survivor of war is one of the many people whose lives were shattered during the war. Her husband was killed as she looked on and was later gang raped. She  went into coma and was  left in the bush for dead. She was saved by hunters who brought her home and was treated with herbs. Up to now, Joyce’s uterus still hangs out and she has never received any medical assistance.

Like Joyce, many women and girls are still suffering from the pains of war. In a study conducted by Isis-WICCE Institute participants in 2011 in Kasese and Bundibugyo districts on the impact of war on women’s health; 90% of women experienced sexual violence  as they were forced to marry, gang raped  and sometimes inserting objects  in their private parts.

 Makisoro Sanyu,  was abducted together with her sister and a cousin was  repeatedly raped  and  forced to eat her sister’s flesh. Her sister complained that she wanted to rest and was killed. The rebels forced Sanyu to cut her sister’s body into pieces and then mixed it with goats’ meat.  “I was the first to be given the piece of her flesh.  My cousin was also killed and then her private parts were cut off and I was forced  to eat them too.  I was threatened that in case I refused I would be the next on the row, I simply ate”.   Sanyu  narrated

The study also revealed that there has not been any form of intervention since the war ended. Almost 70% of the women interviewed revealed that they have never received any form medical attention to address their sexual reproductive health complications.  The senior official in the Rwenzururu Kingdom confirmed this “When the ADF created the havoc our population is grappling with, no particular focus was given to the region because of the bigger war in the north.”

Health services in the two districts were worsened by the war  as most of them are non functional and the functional      ones  lack staffing  and  medical supplies. The  geographical terrain of the area is also another   challenge as it is  highly mountainous  and cannot   easily be accessed.

The study  further indicated that, most of the women who were interviewed had never practiced any method of family planning. Even those formerly abducted women who were having a burden of denied children and reproductive health problems were still producing many children in addition to those they came with from the bush. The minimum number of children  per household seven ( 7)

I was operated on using a knife and a razor blade. Up to now I feel  so much pain in my private parts. My voice has been affected and it sometimes stops when I am talking.  the children that I came with from the bush have been rejected by my foster husband.

 The war did not only leave the physical scars  on the populations   but also the psychological torture hence  emotional and behavioral disorder including mental disorders. “Most of the community people especially women are still distressed and experience terrible night mares”  said Kalisa Doreen who was part of the research team.

Some of the formerly abducted women. Most of these women have several health problems

The rebels could force mothers to abandon their babies in the bush and leave them crying and if they were seen distressed, they  were  killed.  Lovance,   was abducted during the war and was tortured. Now she is mentally disturbed, and she lives in isolation coupled with  poor living conditions.

In Bundibugyo district, Ndughuthu Sub County, the rebels attacked and burnt the church killing 72 people  majority of whom  were women. This incident has continued to haunt  the people in that village to the extent that up to now, when people pass nearby  that church, they cry.

Almost all households that were covered in the study   in Kasese and Bundibugyo, were directly affected by the war either they lost  members  or were maimed, abducted and  lost their property. Unfortunately these families have never been rehabilitated.

The parents  of the suspected rebels were also targeted and tortured by both the local  leaders and government soldiers who beat them  badly  and imprisoned to produce their children that had joined the rebels. This  affected the parents while others suffered  physical injuries.

The study further revealed high levels of poverty and  its effects on population such as  high instances of early marriage  where by parents  consider the girl  child as a source of wealth in form of dowry.  In a  different research conducted by Isis-WICCE    on  early marriage and its impact in Kasese district revealed that almost every household has a child mother and the major driver was poverty.

The people of the Rwenzori region have awaited for long for the help which is not forthcoming. The partial end of the ADF insurgency did not bring any clear opportunities for the people it had affected. The Rwenzori-Luweero Development Programme that was designed by the government of Uganda to address post-conflict concerns in relation to the NRA war has not yet taken off.

As we enter into 50 years of independence,  I  call upon the government and all stakeholders  to support the  post conflict recovery in Rwenzururu region especially on the issue of sexual and reproductive health because many women are rotting and sooner or later their lives will be no more hence loosing the treasured mothers of the nation and nurtures  of the  future generation.

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