After her primary seven in 2003, Irene Kasande did not make it to secondary school.
This was not because she had performed poorly, but because her father said he did not have means to further her education. In that very year, Kasande was impregnated by one of the village boys in Kamwenge district.
Parents from both sides met and agreed to let the duo marry.
“If I had stayed in school, I think I was not going to get pregnant,” says Kasande, who confesses that she has on several occasions been beaten, burnt with hot water, and sometimes forced to sleep outside by her husband.
Kasande has reported these abuses to her parents, but only to be told to persevere as a married woman. Many young girls are in the same state as Kasande. Many who have dropped out of school have either been forced to marry or been impregnated.
Education for All (EFA) Global Monitoring Report 2013 figures show that if all girls went to primary school, one-sixth of child marriages could be prevented among girls aged less than 15 years in sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia.
“Education gives girls dignity. How can you change your life if you don’t know how? If girls and women are empowered, they can take control of their own lives and their bodies,” said the report.
Almost two million young girls were forced into marriage in Uganda, according to an African human social development report presented at the Women Deliver international conference in Kuala Lumpur earlier this year.
The report is compiled from statistics gathered in 2010 to 2012 from UNFPA, Unicef, WHO and World Bank. Uganda falls among the 15 worst African countries with high numbers of child-brides. At 46 per cent of girls below 18 forced or lured into marriage, it is in the eleventh position while Niger tops the list at 75 per cent followed by Chad with 72 per cent.
Mariam Khalique, spokesperson for Global Monitoring Report said: “Every hour counts; we must educate girls to help bring about changes quickly in our society… that is why education is priceless and important for girls and women…”
The EFA report says, for instance, if girls were left to finish primary school, 10 per cent fewer girls would become pregnant. If all girls had secondary education, a whopping 59 per cent fewer girls would become pregnant.
Last July, when ministers of Education from 15 countries in eastern Africa met in Kampala to deliberate on the EFA initiative, minister Jessica Alupo confessed that early marriages were a big problem in Uganda.
“In the post 2015 MDG period, we want to stamp out early marriages completely. Every year, Uneb reports a good number of female pupils dropping out of school – which is bad,” said Alupo.
The ministry of Health says early pregnancies were responsible for over 20 per cent of maternal deaths. Teenagers like Kasande are counted the most lucky to have delivered safely – but she would have been luckier if she had attended secondary school – maybe she wouldn’t have become pregnant in the first place.