ActionAid Uganda, under the Nebbi Local Rights Program, conducted 2-day community radio talk shows in Nebbi and Zombo Districts with 27 Children (girls and boys) to evaluate and understand the impact of the COVID-19 lock-down on their lives and dreams for a better future. These talk shows were attended by their senior women/male teachers, the District Woman Councilors and Sub-county Community Development Officers.
The children explained that the lock-down exposed them to several dangers such as child labor. These children, during the lock-down, were forced into hectic activities like long hours of digging, making chairs, charcoal burning, selling in the market, among others.
As a result of the schools being closed, children are unable to recall much of what was taught in schools and the girls were exposed to violent sexual activities in form of harassment, defilement and rape, with a number of them being married off by their guardians.
With the easing of the lock-down measures, schools are due to reopen for candidate students to sit their final exams come November. The children were engaged for their opinions on the proposed reopening of schools for finalists come next month, to which they cited fears of not being able to catch up with school work after such a long period of being out of school, inability to observe the set standard operating procedures for the COVID-19, possibility of increased number of learners beyond what respective institutions can sustain when school resumes, lack of learning materials, among others.
The girl children also expressed their fears for their friends who got pregnant during the lockdown period stating that it would be impossible for them to resume classes and live a violence free life at school and in the community.
According to statistics available, over 1,618 teenage pregnancies were reported in the district of Nebbi between January to May, 1,082 from Pakwach between January to June and 2,186 in Zombo district for the period between January to July in the year 2020.
These numbers were gathered through teenagers who managed to attend their 1st antenatal classes at health centers in the above-mentioned districts and therefore statistics do not account for those who have not been to a health center.
According to the Community Development Officer of Paidha Town Council, the recorded statistics on teenage pregnancies automatically translate to the number of school dropouts as family members are unable to provide adequate care for the babies while their daughters are in school.
There is dire need for a holistic campaign on supporting girls to return to school amid the challenges presented by COVID19. To ensure sustainability in strategies aimed at addressing violence against children, there is need to build child rights activists and movements that will amplify children’s voices/opinions in matters that affect them.