Plight of an adolescent girl from rural Kasese, western Uganda

Pursuing an education against all odds

By Jane Afoyocan
A girl in brown stands in front of a crowd of school girls in blue uniforms
UNICEF Uganda/2014/Nakibuuka
11 December 2016

Kasese, 2016 - Gertrude Muhindo* 16 years old now in senior one in a secondary school lives with her single mother in Nyamatunga 1 village in Mukunyu sub-county, Kasese District.  Her mother is a subsistence farmer with a small piece of land on which they grow their food crops.  

Muhindo’s fate began in March 2015 when out of frustration, she walked out of her primary seven class in search for any job along the market in order to earn some money for books.   Even though she was in primary seven, Muhindo had spent her initial two months without basic scholastic materials because her mother could not afford and she needed to provide for herself. 

Along the way, she met this young ‘Samaritan’ man who offered to give her some job in exchange for UGX 1,000 (USD 0.29) that could buy one 48 paged exercise book at the time. Unaware of his hidden motive, Muhindo accepted to go and work for him at his house and in the process he defiled her.  Not sure of the consequences and also afraid of what the community/school would say, Muhindo kept the news to herself and moved back to school with one exercise book.  Along the way, she discovered she was pregnant but still could not trust anybody with the news and therefore kept it to herself until she couldn’t hide anymore. In third term, she was forced to drop out of school and with the help of her mother and the head teacher; she reported the case to police but the culprit had already fled the village.

The case was brought to the attention of Inspector of School and Senior Probation and Social Welfare Officer – Kasese District local government but they could not do much since the culprit is at large.  They however encouraged Muhindo to continue with her education and the school allowed her to study from home but maintained her on their candidate list.  She was then called to sit for Primary Living Examination (PLE) in November 2015.  

It was during her third paper on the second day of examination that she went into labour, fortunately for her the school rushed her to Kilembe hospital where she gave birth to a baby boy whom she named Baby Elijah*. 

She completed the English paper on her labour bed and was later taken back to school to sit for the last examination paper (Social Studies) at 2:00pm that same afternoon.

Muhindo passed her PLE with 27 Aggregates, 3rd division and qualified for secondary school admission. She was admitted the secondary school where she put her first choice but could not join the school because her mother could not afford the fees and related requirement and also because she needed to stay home and nurse her baby. 

She is now studying at another secondary school, as a day student.

She faces challenges of meeting her educational requirements, providing for her nine months old baby and their daily basic domestic requirements. They sometimes go for a day or two without any meal. 
Muhindo worries that she may fail to continue with her education if her situation does not improve. Her baby is surviving through support from people that come her way. 

She desires to continue with her education and become a nurse.

*Real names changed to protect the child’s identity.