Uganda’s teenage pregnancy crisis – and how Christians are responding

32,000 – that’s how many teenage pregnancies are being reported per month, on average, in Uganda since the pandemic began in 2020*.

Long-term school closures due to COVID-19 have had an unintended consequence. It turns out that for some Uganda girls, being at school is a much safer place than anywhere else – including, sadly, their home.

13-year-old Nantale** had been shuffled between different families since her parents divorced, but when COVID-19 struck she moved back in with her mother and new husband – a traditional medicine man, or witch doctor.

Nantale’s stepfather began repeatedly abusing her, telling her that sexual intercourse would provide a spiritual cleansing and make the family rich.

But when Nantale tried to tell her mother, she was shocked to discover that her mother was permitting the abuse because she also believed it would bring riches to the family!

With schools closed, Nantale couldn’t tell anyone else – she was almost always locked in the house. Even if neighbours knew, they wouldn’t intervene out of fear of the witchcraft practiced by the family.

Then, earlier this year, Nantale discovered she was pregnant. At just 13 years old.

When Nantale’s mother and stepfather realised she was pregnant, they made plans to carry out a dangerous and illegal home abortion.

But – praise God – a brave neighbour also realised that Nantale was pregnant and contacted the police.

The police arrested Nantale’s stepfather, but sadly that didn’t mean Nantale was out of danger. Nantale’s mother repeatedly told the police that the stepfather was innocent, hoping that he’d be released and they could continue with the abortion and abuse.

So police, neighbours and family members worked together to get Nantale to a place where she’d be safe and cared for – WorldShare’s ministry partner, Wakisa Ministries.

Wakisa Ministries specialises in helping girls just like Nantale, who have become pregnant at a young age, often with heartbreaking stories of abuse and neglect.

Before Nantale arrived at Wakisa Ministries, she didn’t see any hope – in fact, she thought her life was over.

“I found myself as a lost cause, my future was gone, my dreams of becoming a medical doctor were no more,” Nantale remembers.

“I lost trust, I lost confidence, I lost school life, I lost friends, I developed stigma and fear, and I developed suicidal thoughts… I could not sleep, experienced excessive worries and felt that I was a worthless girl.”

And because of the stigma and shame of being pregnant so young, Nantale was expecting to be shunned everywhere she went.

“I did not like the idea [of going to Wakisa], thinking that I was going to be judged.”

But at Wakisa, Nantale didn’t face judgement at all. Instead, she was warmly welcomed into a loving, supportive community of Christians who were committed to loving her just as Jesus would.

Girls like Nantale can live at the Wakisa Ministries centre during their pregnancy, in safety, while learning how to care for their new babies and being supported in their studies.

And after they’ve given birth, they’re helped to re-establish their lives with their baby in a safe location.

Nantale still faces many challenges ahead. She is due to give birth to her baby in September this year, and though her aunt has promised to help raise the child, she will continue to face stigma as an unwed mother.

But thanks to Wakisa Ministries, Nantale has hope now. She knows she is loved, safe and her life has value.

“I don’t face any threats and abuse anymore. I feel loved by all the Wakisa team aunties [female elders], loved and appreciated by the other girls. I have friends to talk to and share my concerns, unlike when I was still in that abusive environment, where I was not allowed to talk to anyone.

I am no longer fearful, I am slowly regaining my confidence because I feel I am safe.”

You can read more of Nantale’s story on the WorldShare website

WorldShare partners with grassroots Christian ministries in Africa and Asia-Pacific that are helping show and share the love of Jesus with people in need.

*Source:  Anadolu Agency
**Name changed for safety and privacy reasons