By Anne Lydia Sekandi

Kaabong District, Uganda– Imagine being a young adolescent girl, with a one year-old baby of your own, and ailing aging parents to singlehandedly look after.

Jessica’s Story

This is exactly what 15 year-old Jessica Loyang’s reality is, since dropping out of primary school due to an early pregnancy in her fifth grade last year. Jessica instantly became a single parent after the man responsible for her pregnancy fled the village and the wrath of the authorities for defiling a minor.

Since then, her life changed drastically, draping her with a cloak of responsibility far too burdensome for her teenage shoulders. She not only fends for her son, Samuel, but also for her elderly parents – a partially blind mother and a father too old to work anymore. Although Jessica has several older siblings, they all left home to start their own families, leaving it to her – the youngest – to care for their aging mother and father.

So, while other 15 year olds prepare themselves for school early each week-day, Jessica routinely gets up at first light to perform domestic chores – like sweeping the manyatta (traditional Karimojong compound), trekking some thirty minutes away and back to fetch water, and preparing her baby for the day – before leaving home in search of money to feed the family.

“I mostly fetch firewood to sell to people in the trading centre,” says Jessica. “When I go, I leave the baby with my mother”, adding that her mother is partially blind. “It worries me sometimes, but where else can I leave him?” she asks.

After gathering enough firewood from the bushes, Jessica ties it up in a bundle, carries it on her head and treks some two kilometres to the nearby trading centre to sell it off for some UGX 2,000 (approximately 55 US cents). To earn more than that, she instead walks an additional 2 kilometres to the nearest town where she can sell it for UGX 3,500 (approximately 97 US cents). She then treks back home to relieve her elderly mother of her babysitting duties, and to prepare the family’s only meal for the day.

Jessica says she cannot work for more than four days a week, so she typically earns about UGX 8,000 (USD$2.23) every week. She uses the money mostly to buy a few cups of maize, sorghum or millet flour for food, and occasionally rice or beans for a change, or soap. Though she rarely does so, Jessica says she sometimes buys some meat, and milk for the baby, who mostly eats porridge, to supplement his breastfeeding.

Child Poverty and Deprivation in Uganda

The Situation Analysis of Child Poverty and Deprivation in Uganda considers a child to be living in poverty when they are deprived of two or more essential requirements including nutrition, health, water, sanitation, shelter, education and information.

Jessica, who dropped out of school owing to an early pregnancy and lost the opportunity to return to school owing to the burden of singlehandedly caring for Baby Samuel and her elderly parents, has been deprived of an education. The Adolescent Girls Vulnerability Index suggests that dropping out of school renders Jessica – and other girls in her situation – even more vulnerable to gross and irreparable violations of her human rights, as well as social isolation with insufficient knowledge and skills to effectively navigate through life.

In addition, Jessica’s nutritional needs are inadequately met both as a growing adolescent and breastfeeding mother. Her situation is further compounded by a daily hourly trek to and from fetching water, not to mention the child protection challenges she encounters from day-to-day as she goes about eking out a living to provide for the family.


The Case for Child-Sensitive Social Protection Grants

UNICEF is collaborating with Uganda’s Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development (MGLSD) to advocate for the adoption of child-sensitive social protection grants as a tool that will contribute significantly to improving the lives of vulnerable children such as Jessica and help lift them out of poverty.

In a Social Protection Investment Case developed in 2016, strong evidence is presented to demonstrate how a child support grant as modest as UGX 23,500 (approximately USD$6.50) for families with children under the age of two (or alternatively, of 8) – right from the first antenatal visit – can be instrumental in tackling childhood vulnerabilities associated with health and nutrition, and ultimately reducing infant, child and maternal mortality. According to the investment case, “The grant can function as an intervention that can help mothers seek appropriate care during pregnancy and delivery while at the same time supports poor and vulnerable households in addressing the major nutritional and educational needs of young children during the delicate stages of early life.”

In addition to the child support grant, UNICEF is also advocating for the establishment of an adolescent girls' scholarship fund, to provide vulnerable girls such as Jessica with a second chance at education and empowering them for the future. The Adolescent Girls Vulnerability Index says such investment has been proven effective in improving health outcomes, better sexual and reproductive health decisions, delaying marriage and reducing child bearing – all of which ultimately contribute to reducing infant, child and maternal mortality .


For Jessica, therefore, child-sensitive social protection grants would significantly improve her life. Not only would she be able to return to school, but also transform the life of her baby, Samuel, who would reap the benefits of having of a better educated mother, and enjoy a break in the vicious cycle of intergenerational poverty.

Originally published at https://www.unicef.org/uganda/media_20310.html