TEEN PREGNANCIES. The debate on how to prevent teenage pregnancies rages on at national level. In the meantime, there are young mothers out there in need of support and guidance
Annabelle Nakabiri Ssebakijje, 34, a mother of two is the executive director, Remnant Generation Ministries. Soft spoken, welcoming but also a disciplinarian, she has learnt many lessons from life as a young girl.
She has gone through thick and thin to be able to achieve her dream and her joy is to see girls be given a second chance at life.
Her Remnant Generation Ministries has touched lives of more than 30 teenage mothers.
Sometimes, she is able to resettle the girls back into their homes but some parents completely reject their children once they fall pregnant so Ssebakijje established a home for such mothers that have nowhere to go.
The rehabilitation home in Busega currently houses 15 mothers and takes care of five from outside the home.
The teenage mothers who were accepted by their families come to the rehab home for mama kits, mosquito nets and antenatal care.
The ministry organises baby showers for both resident and nonresident mothers like any other modern mothers to make them feel important and eagerly await the birth of their babies, the same babies they might have wanted to get rid of before.
Borrowing from her own rough life
Ssebakijje’s life has not been a walk in the park, as she shares:
“I started Remnant Generation Ministries as an outreach project in 2011, going to secondary schools to speak to girls on career guidance and staying in school. At almost every visit I made to the schools, there was a pregnant girl who was afraid to tell her parents. The girls had always opted to abort but I would speak to them and they would change their minds.
I have a passion for women and girls but also from my own experience, there was a time I was going to give up but finally recollected myself and moved on. I come from a family of many children and mothers.
It was up to every mother to care for her children and it was difficult for my siblings and I to stay in school. When I completed Primary Seven in 1995, my parents separated and we had to stay with our step mother.
After months of starving, not going to school and enduring mistreatment, I fled home. I wanted to look for my mother and find a job so that I could take care of my siblings.
At 13, I was hired as a maid for a month and paid Shs20,000 but my services were not needed anymore as the family was going to Canada.
Many times, I survived abuse from men whom I thought would be protecting me. All the male figures I looked up to would speak to me in a seductive way that made me feel abused as a child.
I eventually located my mother’s friend who led me to my mother and we went to rescue my siblings. We rented a room in Kyengera, a Kampala suburb, and another friend of my mother’s allowed me to start Senior One in 1997 with only a small portion of the school fees paid. Unfortunately, I dropped out in Senior Three again because my mother could not raise even the small amount required.
My siblings and I would hawk pancakes, clothes, fetch water, wash people’s clothes, and sell paper bags. I was able to raise Shs60,000 as school fees for my four siblings. Our feeding was at the mercy of well-wishers. I was able to go back to school and complete Senior Six. I continued to encourage myself that I could still be the person I wanted to be.
One of my sisters was given a bursary to study at a primary school and another at Mugwanya Summit College for secondary school because she was quite smart. I paid for my tuition while I was at university while paying for my other siblings too until I graduated. Empowering girls was the only thing I wanted to do.”
The big problem
Fionah Nakityo, a social worker at Remnant Generation Ministries says many teenage pregnancies are a result of defilement, incest and sometimes consent born out of naivety on the girls’ part who do not recognize the severity of their action’s consequences.
“Seventy per cent are the defilement cases common in pastoralist communities where girls are usually abused as they tend to the cattle,” she says.
Most of the defilement cases stay home while the police investigate but for safety, they are taken away from home. The girls that run away have consented but fear facing the wrath of their parents. Sometimes, the men deny responsibility for the pregnancies while in others even the men are too young and still under the care of their parents.
The underlying causes
It takes two people to make a baby but when the girl conceives, she suffers the consequences alone while the boy or man remains free. “Yet, the family, school and cultural systems have always judged a teenage mother bitterly,” says Ssebakijje. “I am not encouraging the girls to get pregnant because we are here to help them but these girls usually endure so many things.”
She adds, “Sometimes, it is incest and in order to keep the family together, everyone agrees to keep it a secret. Some parents lead their children into temptation when they do not provide them with basic needs.”
To her, no girl should endure any form of abuse without care. Being a teenage mother is traumatising for the girls and the best way to help them not to abort or commit suicide is to make them feel important.
A way forward
Disciplinary measures can be taken by parents when a girl conceives at a tender age but they should be kind enough to listen and not just send them away from home. The parent should instead be thinking of how they can help the child as she can still be able to pursue her dreams if given a chance.
Ssebakijje says, “Some parents have left the television, internet, camps and social media platforms to speak to the children. Parents do not have time to speak to their children so they are learning so many inappropriate things.”
“I think every girl needs a male figure in her life but starting with her father,” she adds. He should be the one to complement her, talk to her about her strengths and weaknesses and advise her accordingly. However, the fathers leave the parenting responsibility to the mothers.”
“I was brought here by one of the patrons from Remnant Generations in August 2016 from a clinic in Bwaise. My boyfriend who had just completed Senior Four the previous year told me he was not ready to take on the responsibility of a father because he was young. He told me he knew of a good place where I could abort from. I managed to hide the pregnancy from my parents for eight months since I was in a boarding school.
The school had noticed and had told my parents but that was the time I was brought here by my boyfriend to abort. While at the clinic, I was injected but the doctor did not explain to me how the injection was going to affect me. That was the time I was rescued by the people from Remnant Generation and taken to Mengo Hospital. An ultrasounf scan showed there was a strange fluid penetrating the amniotic fluid but was given medicine that would keep me in balance.
I gave birth to a baby boy on October 7, 2016, in time to sit my my Senior Four exams starting on October 15. I was let back into school for the exams in Nakaseke on condition that I was a day scholar. Unfortunately, my grandmother refused to stay with my baby so I missed the examsI stayed with my grandmother and father for November and December but I always felt alone. The father of my baby disappeared and it was my expense whenever the child fell sick. My heart was devoted to going to school again. I requested the people here that they take me back to school and now I am in school again while I care for my child.”
I dropped out of school in Primary Three when my mother died. She left me with an aunt and I only knew about my father when I turned 11. Since that time, my father has connected me to several homes to work as a maid while he is paid for the work I do.I had worked for some family in Kenya where I had a boyfriend who was much older but I did not know what results my actions would yield.
When I came from Kenya, I stayed home for two days and my father told me to go and work for someone in Mengo. I did not know I was pregnant but my new boss figured I was after I had not asked her to buy me sanitary pads for the three months I spent there. She took me for tests that confirmed I was pregnant.
When she told my father, he told me to go home, abort and look for another place to work. I was not ready to go home because I am only treated as a money making machine. From my efforts, my other siblings, step mother and father would survive.
I requested the lady if I would stay so she brought me to this place in November 2016 at seven months and on February 7, 2017, I delivered a baby boy.I know my father thinks that I am still working but from the counseling, I want to start a business so that I can be able to care for my child.”