The Ugandan government has announced it will start arresting midwives who do not report to police underage mothers who seek antenatal care at health centres.
The State minister for Youth and Children Affairs, Ms Florence Nakiwala, made the statement on Tuesday at the launch of the Uganda Women’s Network report on gender roles and care economy in Ugandan households.
She said the move is intended to make midwives and nurses to report cases of defilement, which lead to underage mothers.
The minister said both private and government health facilities are fond of merely compiling figures of underage mothers but do not take action by reporting to police so that the culprits are apprehended.
“It is useless to compile figures of teenage or underage mothers without making case references for police to search for the responsible people. If a 13-year-old girl comes for antenatal services, treat her but make sure you open a case with police because there is a person responsible for her pregnancy,” Ms Nakiwala said.
Asked whether the move will not scare away teenage mothers from seeking antenatal care in hospitals or make midwives deny them services for fear of getting arrested, Ms Nakiwala insisted health workers must take the lead in fighting child pregnancies.
“We have not said midwives should not treat underage mothers, we want them to be responsible enough. They should ensure case references are made for all child mothers who seek their antenatal services. Failure to do so amounts to aiding and abetting criminality and they would be charged for that,” she insisted.
She said nearly every clinic, health centre or hospital receives underage mothers daily but they only stop at recording their details and giving statistics at the end of year.
She said the move to arrest them will also ensure men or relatives who impregnate young girls are apprehended.
She reasoned that this will reduce abuse of children’s rights.
Ms Jane Ocaya, Oxfam advisor on women rights, said a study conducted in Kaabong, Kabale and Kampala districts revealed that women are inducted to accept the unpaid domestic care workload from childhood at the expense of their health, happiness and economic prospects.
“The study presents an analysis of the links between social norms, the division of work for males and females, as well as time patterns in daily care work taking into consideration the rural/urban divide,” Ms Ocaya said.
“It established that at childhood, girls spend 4.8 hours a day on unpaid care and domestic work while boys spend 3.8 hours,” she added.
She added that there is need for men to appreciate that their wives are working more than they do and stop despising them as non-contributors to the family’s welfare.