When 13 year old Rose Ariokot gaily returned to her poverty stricken parent's home in Amudat [Northern Uganda] for holidays, late last year, she had no clue her relatives were planning to take her through the outlawed initiation custom, otherwise known as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
Against her wish, Ariokot was taken through the rite.
A year later, her poor parents married her off, after supposedly failing to raise her school fees.It had been Ariokot’s wish to continue with school, however.
Ariokot had invariably given a good account of herself in class.Some of her former classmates, say she was always among the best pupils in her class.
Sad as it is, Ariokot’s story is not isolated.
Several other young school going girls in Amudat and the Karamoja sub region in general, have suffered similar unfortunate fates.
In many parts of the Karamoja sub region, forced marriages are all the rage.Young pubescent girls; some as young as 10 are married off soon as their breasts begin to sprout.
Forced marriages are according to the Ministry of Education’s Gender in Education Strategic Plan for Karamoja 2018-2022, the leading issue affecting education in Karamoja.
“Poor, handed from down, community attitudes towards education are way bigger a problem. The other challenges simply feed into the poor attitude problem. Less enlightened families are into the habit of marrying off their daughters early because they are products of an environment that feeds off false old narratives like the ill advised belief that when girls are educated, they become prostitutes or that education is a curse,” James Bedigo Okumu, the deputy Chief Administrative Officer of Kaabong, told Masaabachronicle.
Johnny Backri, a teacher at Morulem girls S.S in Abim district concurs.
“While it can not be stated in the abstract that all young girls in Karamoja has fallen victim, their education attainment rates have consistently been low compared to those of boys and that is principally down to a pathetic attitude towards education. There is a misguided fear that when a Karamojong girl gets educated, she will not marry into the Karamojong community.”
The 2015 participatory gender audit in Karamoja (by the Ministry of Education and Sports) showed that persistent low school enrolment and high dropout rates have a lot to do with negative community perceptions to education.
Luke Ajuret, an opinion leader in Nakapiripirit district, says it is deplorable that some communities in the Karamoja sub region still hold views that run counter to the education of girls.
“In some areas, education is not seen as a pathway to improving livelihoods. To that end, some people remain indisposed to views that education can indeed transform their livelihoods. Because many households are poor, educating girls and boys too is not always seen as a priority. Girls are viewed as sources of wealth. Once they supposedly reach mature age, they are married off so that the parents get cows in return. Cows are status symbols,” Ajuret told Masaabachronicle.
Though it is outlawed, Female genital mutilation still rears its ugly head in Karamoja. The practice is very much to the detriment of many of the region’s young school going girl children, especially those living in areas where it is still practiced; to wit; Amudat.
“The law [Prohibition of Female genital mutilation Act 2010] does exist but its long arm has not stretched long to bring retribution to bear on the people who still practice FGM in areas such as Amudat. The upshot after the rite is performed is that girls are pressured to marry. Even those who were lucky enough to be in school are usually withdrawn after they undergo the rite,” Fred Emojung, an educationist from Kotido, told Masaabachronicle.
Karamoja’s education sector is however not only grappling with issues of mediocre girl child education attainment.There are a host of other challenges the sub region is facing, such as rampant child trafficking.
“It dampens my spirits when I see trafficked Karamojong children, on the streets of Kampala and other towns, begging. These children should be in school, not on the streets. Retribution for persons who traffick these children as stipulated by the 2009 prevention of Trafficking of Persons Act, has been long overdue,” Ajuret told Masaabachronicle.
At issue, as well is rampant child labour. It is an issue which has featured prominently in several district dialogues.
“Child labour interferes with the ability of children to attend school. In many parts of the Karamoja sub region, the exploitation of children through hard labour is still widespread and it continues unabated. Children, especially boys are compelled to cast about for firewood and pasture for cattle in far off places. The girls on the other hand are compelled to sell commodities such as paraffin, firewood, etc, instead of being sent to school,” John Oputa, the Moroto district education officer, told Masaabachronicle.
Some years back, the now obsolete Alternative Basic Education for Karamoja programme, brought glimmers of hope to some of Karamoja’s children.
Under the programme, stay home children-children, who in most cases were at risk of abuse and other forms of exploitation learnt how to read and write. The instructors often used the native language to train Karamoja’s young people on topics such as livestock rearing, human health, crop production, etc.
Low education levels in Karamoja have also reportedly been brought to pass by excessive corporal punishments in schools.
In several community dialogues last year, corporal punishment in schools was cited as a contributory factor to high school dropout rates.It was reportedly high in schools in districts such as Abim, Amudat, Moroto and Kotido.
Several district education officials and district heads who attended the 2018-2022 gender in education strategic plan for the Karamoja sub region, workshop in Moroto recently noted that corporal punishment was still rife in some schools in the sub region.
The solutions seeking workshop, held under the auspices of the Ministry of Education and Sports also sought to discuss solutions to the low enrolment rates of Karamojong girls at primary level.
According to the 2016 Education ministry Statistical Abstract, only 43.6% girls enrolled in primary school compared to 56.4% boys in the Karamoja sub region.Total enrolments have generally been low and education experts are concerned that despite benchmark interventions like UPE and USE, the trajectory has been persistent.
Peter Apaja, the LC 5 Chairman of Moroto, notes that Karamoja needs to look beyond platitudes that have not worked in the past.
"There must be new approaches to promote gender responsive education. Community mobilisation drives are going to be carried out in earnest, as a means of changing attitudes and putting a stop to counterproductive traditional customs that are denying young girls an education," Apaja told Masaabachronicle.
Martin Gwoko the Moroto Chief Administrative Officer, says an 80% primary dropout rate for both sexes and enrolment rates of 20% for Karamoja, do not make for good reading.
“Our primary school completion rates on the whole are always below the national average of 60%. This gender in education strategic plan will be a useful tool in the mobilisation of resources to implement effective interventions for the sub region’s education sector," Gwoko told Masaabachronicle.
Joseph Opio, the Moroto RDC notes that drastic approaches will have to be enforced to tackle low enrollment, high dropout rates and FGM in the sub region.
"Disarmament as an exercise worked. I have no doubt in my mind that counterproductive practices like FGM and forced marriages can also be done away with,” Opio told Masaabachronicle.
“If need be, children will be compelled to go to school. Karamoja can not perpetually lag behind.” Opio stresses.
Angel Nakafero, the technical advisor in the gender unit at the Ministry of Education and Sports, tells Masaabachronicle that the 2018-2022 strategic plan for Karamoja seeks to amongst other things, support and achieve education parity between boys and girls in Karamoja.
“It also aims at achieving national education targets for boys and girls in all educational institutions in Karamoja. Skills will also be developed for out of school boys and girls in Karamoja and all technical staff in the district education departments will be required to get skills in gender analysis and mainstreaming and to address gender related issues in education.”
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