A teenage mother’s baby steps to return to school

"I have to endure and show them and their parents that you can start again after giving birth, so they should take the second chance we have been given"

By Joachim Buwembo
teenage pregnancies, COVID-19, girls education club, adolescent girls, education, Uganda, early marriages, early marriage, school closures
UNICEF Uganda/2022/Tibaweswa
28 April 2022

Sarah* was 16 during the lockdown imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19 when she became pregnant. She was tricked by a friend’s brother who led her into a trap and raped her. She missed her period, and the next, and the next. Even as her other name means joy, her life became a nightmare.

Abandoned by her father at birth and later deserted by her mother who got married to another man, Sarah was taken up by her aunt who has been providing for her all her life. Being pregnant under her roof was so shameful, regardless of the circumstances and Sarah’s first thought was to commit suicide. From their home in Arua City in northern Uganda, she walked to a small forest in the outskirts intending to end her life.

That is where one of her friends, Anicy Alezuyo found her as she tried to figure out how to end it all. Anicy is a peer educator under Straight Talk Foundation, which is supported by UNICEF with funding from the Canadian National Committee for UNICEF and spends all her free time talking to fellow adolescents about their reproductive health. She managed to get Sarah to confirm rumours of her pregnancy. Anicy managed to talk Sarah out of her suicide plan.

Sarah then insisted that the least she could settle for was abortion, since the boy who had raped her had denied her, saying he was not responsible for her pregnancy. But Anicy explained that abortion was highly risky and promised to stand with her through her pregnancy until she delivered and would even ensure she returned to school. Both girls were supposed to transition to Senior Four when schools re-opened. Both have the same dream – training to become nurses.

It wasn’t easy but Anicy convinced Sarah’s aunt to forgive her. Anicy used her transport allowance from Straight Talk Foundation worth US$18 a month on Sarah’s expenses going for ante-natal care and shopping to prepare for the baby. Finally, the baby boy, now two months, was born. They named him Winner! Sarah’s Aunt even employed a nanny to stay with Winner during the day until school closes in the evening.

teenage pregnancies, COVID-19, girls education club, adolescent girls, education, Uganda, early marriages, early marriage, school closures
UNICEF Uganda/2022/Tibaweswa

But returning to school was harder than Sarah had expected. Despite the emotional support from Anicy and the official policy allowing the young mothers to return to school, Sarah had not been prepared for the ridicule from other children that awaited her. At home she had come to expect abuses from her cousins – her aunt works far away in Gulu City and is not at hand to restrain her children. Upon learning about the situation, her biological father materialized the news and traced the family of the boy who impregnanted her daughter, pressurizing Sarah to go get married to the boy so they can pay him full bride price. He has so far collected one cow from them which he sold off promptly. Now he wants the ‘balance’ of 10 million shillings (about US$2,800) to invest in some unspecified business. But Sarah is determined not to allow the transaction where she would be the item transferred take place. 

On her first day in school, she only lasted a couple of hours and could not take the name calling; she returned home at 10.00 a.m.

The next day she managed up to lunchtime. The third day Sarah was stronger and lasted up to 3.00 p.m. It was from the fourth day that she attended up to the end.  

teenage pregnancies, COVID-19, girls education club, adolescent girls, education, Uganda, early marriages, early marriage, school closures
UNICEF Uganda/2022/Tibaweswa

Every day, Anicy is at hand during break time to be with Sarah and help her ignore the mean remarks by the other children. Anicy also talks to the other children and their attitude towards Sarah has been improving. After school, she walks home with her and waits until after Winner has breastfed – the second time in the day – and then goes to her own home. 

“My friend Anicy told me and keeps telling me that by persisting and making it through school, I am helping other girls who will face what I am facing,” says Sarah.

“So, I have to endure and show them and their parents that you can start again after giving birth, so they should take the second chance which we are being given.”

* names changed. 

UNICEF Uganda/2022