Covid-19 has united the world in an incredibly unique way. While it is true that everyone has struggled with the fallout of this global pandemic, it has had more serious consequences on some of the most vulnerable populations. Unfortunately, adolescent girls have been among the most adversely affected and for some, life has become downright dangerous.
In Kampala, Uganda, schools have been shuttered for four months with no plans to reopen anytime soon. Without the support system of teachers and school administrators, many girls are left vulnerable to teenage pregnancy, early childhood marriage and gender-based violence, among other devastating effects of Covid-19. Global G.L.O.W. partners from Art of a Child in Uganda have recognized the need for increased engagement with adolescent girls in their community, and are making it their priority to reach even more girls as this pandemic rolls on.
Here, they paint a troubling picture of what life has been like since Covid-19 lockdowns took effect months ago:
In Uganda, as with many other countries around the world, Covid-19 has resulted in an increased rate of teenage pregnancy. In order to gain basic necessities like sanitary towels, girls have engaged in transactional sex with men who take advantage of their need for money.
“Having been impregnated, this has not only ruined my future but also the trust that my parents had in me,” says Jane, who is facing a pregnancy at just 14 years old. Now, she finds herself out of school and afraid for her future.
Jane is not alone. In the Kitgum, Ngora, Kyegegwa, Kases and Lyantonde districts of Uganda, close to where Art of a Child operates, there have been more than 2,372 teenage pregnancies during this lockdown. Adding to the burden, many girls are left without a partner and find themselves having to be the breadwinners of their families.
Teenage pregnancies, among other risk factors, are adding to the number of girls who are not in school. Even before Covid-19, there were 98 million adolescent girls worldwide who were not in school and research suggests the pandemic could add an additional 20 million.
Incidence of early-childhood marriage is also on the rise as poverty caused by the pandemic has forced families to marry off their daughters to help alleviate financial burdens. In Uganda, at least 128 school-age girls have been married off in the Kyegegwa, Rakai, Kamira Sub-county, Luweero District alone.
In addition to early marriage, many girls are also having to enter the workforce at a young age to help provide for their families. In some communities, girls are also forced to take on much of the domestic work at home, keeping them from seeing their friends and joining community-building activities. When schools reopen, many of these girls will not go back.
It should be noted that Covid-19 has also resulted in a secondary health crisis in Uganda. In some communities, girls have tried to remove their unborn babies themselves to terminate their pregnancies. They are also at increased risk of violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect.
The pandemic has also resulted in limited access to health services for girls and prescription medication has been very limited. And, the effects on girls’ mental health is equally as troubling. Without their support systems, many girls have no outlet for the stress they are feeling during this devastating time.
“These numbers are heartbreaking. As an organization, we are moving into the rural areas now [to engage girls],” says Global G.L.O.W. partnership coordinator Susan Tusabe. “We need to do more.”