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Uganda: Protect Young Girls From HIV/Aids By Ending Child Marriages
The Observer
By Nabimanya Humphrey
December 3, 2015

You might want to ask, what does it have to do with child marriage? Quite frankly, a lot.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), has it on record that young girls and women are most likely to contract the HIV virus not forgetting underage brides who still have higher chances of getting the disease.

Child marriage -marriage before the age of 18, still lingers and continues to endanger lives of innocent young girls in certain cultures and communities mostly in developing countries like Uganda with substantial proven negative magnitudes to their health, schooling, social life and future.

In Uganda for example, the statistics are alarming. According to UNFPA, 20% of girls aged 15-19 are currently married, 49% of girls are married before their 18th birthday and 1 in every 4 girls in Uganda, are already mothers or pregnant with their first child.

And behind these statistics, are clear and heart-breaking live examples. Reach A Hand, Uganda (RAHU), a youth led organization, has just concluded conducting community dialogues on ending child marriage in different parts of the country and many testimonies we documented, tragedy and disaster might not be the best words to describe the situation on ground.

In Gulu for example, a story of a then 12-year-old girl forced to marry a man who later abandoned her when she gave birth depicts a clear image of many girls in the countryside whose possibility of having a bright future, is already in limbo.

She was forced by her parents to get re-married at 15 years to man who later turned out to be HIV positive consequently infecting her with HIV. These child brides do not have the authority to have a say on when or whom they will marry, can't openly voice out their concerns to their husbands and in-laws, are not aware of their rights, and are at a risk of being banished from society when they complain which makes them vulnerable to killer diseases like AIDS.

Studies by UNAIDS signpost that not only are women biologically more vulnerable to HIV infection than men, but younger women and girls are especially vulnerable because they are not biologically ready to carry out marital obligations associated with adulthood.

Uganda aside, in developing countries generally, women are more likely than men to be infected with HIV, with young women outstripping young men among newly infected 15-24 year olds by two to one, according to a global report by the UNAIDS Inter-Agency Task Team on Gender and HIV/AIDS.

Since child brides are juveniles, it is natural that they are not well empowered to negotiate for safe sex. Many child brides have had forced sexual encounters.

According to UNAIDS, violent sex increases HIV transmission because vaginal abrasions make it easier for the virus to enter the body. Violent sex is attributed to the one-sidedness of power and control in a marriage setting like this, putting the girl at risk of getting HIV infections.

It is also important to note here, that she may not even realize she's in danger if she doesn't have access to information about reproductive rights and sexually transmitted diseases, which is often the case in developing countries.

Clearly therefore, reducing the rate of child marriage would also slow the spread of HIV/AIDS. We call upon everyone to join the campaign against child marriage. RAHU was able to reach only six districts in Uganda (Kanungu, Mubende, Butaleja, Katakwi, Moroto and Gulu) but what about the rest of the districts all over the country?

Today, we must all unite and take a stand by getting to know our HIV statuses and be a part of the movement to get to zero: zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS related deaths starting with protecting young women from HIV/AIDS by ending child marriage.

The writer is a founder/team leader Reach A Hand Uganda - a non-profit organization that aims to address youth health issues.

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