Lived experiences of teenage mothers in Gulu District, Uganda
Kabwire, Olivia Okiror
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This study examines the lived experiences of teenage mothers in post-conflict setting, Gulu District. The study adopted a phenomenological qualitative research design to explore the subjective experiences of the participants. The target population for this research comprised of 23 girls aged 13-19 years old, either pregnant or recently given birth, and 8 young mothers who had given birth while teenagers. 20 key informant interviews were carried out with the parents of the teenage mothers and neighbours in the communities where the teenagers lived during and after their pregnancies. The main findings of the study were that poverty, peer pressure, lack of proper and comprehensive sex education resulting from a lack of parental guidance, and sexual assault were the major causes of early sexual debut and teenage pregnancies in the district. The social challenges faced by these teenage mothers identified included dropping out from school, poverty, domestic violence, and stigmatization from the community. The findings suggest that teenage mothers dropped out of school becoming entirely dependent on their caretakers, which made them even more vulnerable economically and, in most cases, a burden leading to poverty. In coping with the situation of being teenage mothers, the findings revealed that young mothers receive support from family, NGOs, and health centres. Others would willingly choose to move in with their boyfriends, and some were given off in marriage. Maladaptive coping behaviours like avoidance and self condemnation were also reported and were indicated to have resulted into feelings of unworthiness or guilt of what is considered bad behaviour and shame. The study recommends that priority should be given to support teenager mothers make transition from adolescent to economic independence as this has been reported by earlier studies to reduce the negative effects and challenges related to the lived experiences of teenage mothers. The study further recommends that counselling and reorientation of victims of teenage pregnancy to properly readjust themselves back into normal life in the society.