The Otici Teenage Girl

Twenty five kilometers off the highway between Uganda and Sudan, lies the village of Otici, a name that originates from the evergreen rocky terrain that lies east of Otici trading center situated South of the famous Guru-Guru hills, a site popular for the Lamogi rebellion of 1911.

This is the story of a girl from this region....

I lived with both parents in a large compound with two grass thatched huts, one with a kitchen as well as a sleeping house for boys - as for the girls we shared the main house with our parents, until I got married and left for my own home.

Being a child mother, I am constantly reminded of my teenage experience that keeps me thinking my future is doomed, blank and bleak. I did not intend to become what I am today but it was just a bitter choice I made on pressure with hopes of achieving a better life.

From infancy to twelve years, my parents were the best I could hope for in life. However, the moment I started having body changes including breast development and menstruation, my demands for basic needs increased, and such needs they were not always willing to provide. In fact they acted like I was being a problem, demanding too much from them.

They misperceived me for a child set to be married off.

"My mother refused to buy me any sanitary pads” - Christine, 17, from Uganda [Credit: Plan]

"My mother refused to buy me any sanitary pads” - Christine, 17, from Uganda [Credit: Plan]

I became the only hope for income to the poverty stricken family. Whenever my father got drunk he chased me away from home with a spear, saying I am ready for marriage. “All your age mates have married and made money for their fathers what is it that you are waiting for?” He said. “I do not waste money on girls; they will end up married to other people.” I was the only human resource the whole clan relied on and the families economic and domestic work tool.

My school was my only consolation - until the day that marked my turning point.

A day before, I asked my father for pads but he responded bitterly saying, “I do not have the money for that, go asked you mother. And besides, you’re old enough, why don’t you make charcoal and buy one for yourself.” His response left me in tears and I went without, only to end up in a heavy flow the next morning in class. The senior woman teacher supported me out but the boys who saw what happened pointed fingers at me, fixing me with every blame and criticism:

She is ready for marriage,
She was bathing her baby,
She has cows meat bleeding inside her,
She is aborting,
She is careless.

I suffered a long-term from this traumatic experience, and no form of counselling would heal me. I felt I had nothing to look forward to, for I had killed my past and was busy killing my future, leaving me with a family that never listens or cares about me.

Rosemary fell pregnant after being coerced into having sex with a stranger  [Credit: Plan International]

Rosemary fell pregnant after being coerced into having sex with a stranger  [Credit: Plan International]

Just like every liquid has its boiling point, every girl has her breaking point. I could not hold it in any more - I accepted I had to quit at fourteen, and stayed with a colleague who got pregnant and dropped out of school.

I sought advice from her, and she told me getting pregnant was a solution to menstruation and that getting married is freedom from irresponsible parents.  I welcomed her ideas with open hands – I became pregnant to a small scale businessman to whom my parents handed me over immediately, because he had the little money they wanted.

As if I had not had enough, the worst of all my experiences was during my first child birth. It was sucha complicated delivery - I risked losing my womb in the hands of a traditional birth attendant. Thank God my fertility remained safe - but I am now left with the bigger burden of raising my children out of charcoal burning and agriculture.

This is the real life situation of the teenage girls in my community, a situation that applies to many other rural communities in the country. Like chameleons, the masters of environmental adoption, a sizeable percentage of people have adapted to this kind of life. All the cultural and religious morals, norms and values have died in the internally displaced camps during the twenty years insurgency that hit the region.

My community has since then remained that in which each one is for him/herself. Parents do not want to take responsibility of their children, and more so because they are girls, so they take advantage of marriage for their financial gains. Dropping out of school is not seen as a problem but rather a relief from school demands. Pregnancy simply implies they have the rights to demand for dowry, not necessarily a criminal case for the majority.

As a brother, it’s really absurd having a sister’s future derailed by elders and parent with selfish motives and Because I Am a Boy I have the responsibilities to ensure I and my sisters are treated the same way, sharing equal opportunities, growing and developing together and being for her a source of security against the ruthless communities.