Napak child mothers shock society by outperforming other girls
“The performance of these two child mothers will encourage the others who got pregnant during lockdown to also return school”
“The performance of these two child mothers will encourage the others who got pregnant during lockdown to also return school,”
The past three years have been quite eventful for Hellen Moru, a 19-year-old schoolgirl in the Napak District of the semi-arid Karamoja sub region in north eastern Uganda. She was just starting Standard five at Lomuno Primary School when all schools in the country were closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Like it happened to hundreds of other girls in the sub region, she was given away into marriage by her parents who could not stand having her at home “doing nothing”.
Naturally, she conceived and at 17, got a baby girl, Alpha Daphne. But a few concerned people, especially her headmistress Joyce Opel, were not ready to let the unprepared teenager remain condemned to marriage in a polygamous setting without sufficient empowerment to be a competent mother. After a lot of persuasion, encouragement and negotiations with concerned parties including the “husband” to let her go, Hellen returned to class when school re-opened after the two-year closure.
At the end of 2022, she sat her Primary Leaving Examinations alongside 102 other candidates and in the process, scored to notable victories. First, she had not lost even a year after being out of school, for she left in Primary five and rejoined in Primary seven two years later. Secondly, with a Division Two score of 23 Aggregate, she emerged second best in the entire school of 110 candidates! (Seven registered candidates missed the exam and according to Head Teacher Opel, are believed to have been trafficked to Kenya to do domestic work.)
The second child mother to sit for Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE) at the school in 2022 is Josephine Aloiku, who has a baby boy, and also came among the top five with 27 Aggregate points.
Little did she know that her prediction had already been fulfilled as we stepped out her office, we ran into three teenagers with their babies waiting to talk to her, seeking re-enrolment! After the excited hugs and exclamations, they told of a few others who are also on their way.
Both the head teacher and the child mothers feel vindicated. For Joyce Opel, it is vindication after several community elders repeatedly accusing her of “mixing ‘malayas’ (loose women) with our innocent children”, on account of readmitting Hellen and Josephine to the school.
“Our school suffered 17 pregnancies and now these five are back,” she says. “I won’t rest until all the rest have re-enrolled. I am negotiating with everybody including the “husbands” to let go of the poor girls.”
The two child mothers are equally elated; they are the most cheerful of the school community that we encounter on our visit. Josephine cannot contain her excitement as she now recalls the hard days just after she had returned to school. Besides having to step out class and breastfeed a crying baby, and the financial hardships to treat the infants when sick, the two girls had also to contend with the stigma of being regarded as loose girls/women in society and as old ladies in school.
“The other children kept insisting on calling me ‘Mama Erick’, until the headmistress stopped them, and they started calling me Josephine again” she says. “She also told the teachers to be patient with us. I am so happy and now ready to continue with studies.”
Both Josephine and Hellen admit that desperation contributed greatly to their performance, as they grabbed the second chance they had been given tenaciously and pushed themselves to revise harder in preparation for the exams. And they are not keeping their achievement to themselves; that are actively encouraging the other child mothers to return to school. Working with Trailblazers Mentorship Foundation who are supported by UNICEF with funding from Irish Aid, the child mothers are part of the network that is campaigning to persuade their peers who were similarly affected to return to school.
While the child mothers share the same anxieties as their peers financing their future education after passing the primary cycle, the Napak District Education Officer Joyce Nakoya says they need not worry so much.
“We have a government day school in their Lotome Sub-County where we shall ensure they get admitted and sponsored if they wish,” she said. “But there are even better opportunities of joining skilling institutions so they can learn to fend for themselves and their babies sooner than later.”