Child abuse and early marriages threaten Teso Sub-Region: Urgent call for action

Child abuse and early child marriages continue to cast a dark shadow over the Teso Sub-Region, raising deep concerns among development partners who attribute these issues to the prevailing poverty in many households.

In response to this distressing situation, the government has received urgent appeals to intensify efforts to combat child abuse, which remains a significant threat to the education and well-being of children living in upcountry areas.

Child pregnancies and early marriages plague rural communities in Teso, leaving many young lives altered forever. However, hope has begun to sprout with a new opportunity for these victims to return to school and pursue their educational aspirations.

Nineteen-year-old Suzan Ayayo is one such survivor. She fell pregnant at the tender age of 17, which led her to drop out of school after the man responsible abandoned her. Suzan was recently granted a second chance to acquire valuable skills in hairdressing.

Development partners active in the region have uncovered a disturbing reality: violence, exploitation, and abuse in various forms place children's physical and mental health and their education at severe risk, imperilling their overall development and future.

A recent report by UNICEF reveals that in Uganda, most children have experienced physical violence, jeopardizing their holistic development. Astonishingly, 59 per cent of girls and 68 per cent of boys fall victim to this brutality. Moreover, gender-based and sexual violence is pervasive, affecting 35 per cent of girls and 17 per cent of boys during their childhood. Girls are especially vulnerable to child marriage, teenage pregnancy, and female genital mutilation.

Alarming statistics demonstrate that in Uganda, four in ten women aged 20 to 49 are married between the ages of 15 to 18, and at least one in four teenage girls either becomes pregnant or has a child. This stark reality holds true in Amuria District as well.

Child labour is another pressing issue, with many children engaged in the informal sector. In rural areas, a staggering 93 per cent of children are involved in agriculture and fishing.

In response to this crisis, organizations like World Vision have launched initiatives to build loving communities that protect and nurture children to prepare them for a brighter future. This becomes a pivotal point for communities, particularly those that still adhere to traditional approaches in child-rearing.

Malainga Simon Area Programme Coordinator Morungatuny Area Program by World Vision in Amuria District says these have brought immense relief and joy to the local population, complementing the government's ongoing efforts.

The spiritual and child sponsorship programs championed by World Vision have provided a safety net for children, helping to ensure they stay in school. The spiritual aspect focuses on enhancing children's well-being through child-focused transformational development, fostering a love for God and neighbours. Child sponsorship offers families and communities the opportunity to work on sustainable solutions to break free from poverty.

Approximately 5,000 children from Morungatuny have directly benefited from child sponsorship. Teachers and parents have noticed that these interventions are not only moulding children into respectful citizens but also encouraging them to report cases of child abuse.

Despite the harrowing challenges, initiatives by organizations and the government are slowly but surely making a positive impact, offering a glimmer of hope to the children of Teso Sub-Region.

Over 2,700 Girls in Teso have been Forced into Early Marriage, Probation Office Records Revealed by Amos Oluka, a senior probation officer, has highlighted

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