By Mildred Nambi
Lwengo district council has passed a by-law against underage marriages in the district.
The by-law comes at a time when the district is trying to stem the school girl drop out rate.
Many teenage girls allegedly drop out of school for early marriages.
According to George Mutabaazi, statistics at the district education department indicate that 36% of the girls in their school going age in the district as young as 13 are married off before they complete their primary school classes.
He says that parents of these girls often participate in coercing them to get married in return for monetary and material gain.
Mutabaazi explains that since the year began, they have tried to discourage the practice and actually block several such marriage ceremonies.
However, many early marriages do still go ahead in secret.
As a result of being married off early, Mutabaazi says many of these girls end up with health complications. The lucky ones who successfully give birth become “child-parents” because many are still underage themselves.
The by-law which was passed by the district council on Tuesday, awaits consent from the office of the Attorney General where it will be forwarded for ratification.
The by-law, proposes that parents who marry off their children, below 18 years are liable to a fine of 150,000 shillings or a jail term of two month or both. It also calls for punishment of the man who marries an underage girl with a jail sentence of two months and penalty of 200, 000 shillings or both.
Teachers who don’t report cases of school girls, who have been married off, as well as religious leaders who will unite the prohibited couple will be accused of abetting the crime, punishable with fine of 50,000 shillings.
Abdul Kabugo Mugendawala, a councillor representing the Ndagwe Sub County, who tabled the bylaw, says that, they were prompted to pass the bylaw following reports of increase on girl-child school dropouts.
Mugendawala says that when other girls see their friends being married off, they run away from their homes and the parents are not bothered, as long as they are given material compensation.
He says once the bylaw is approved, they will request neighbouring districts to adopt it too because some of the girls are married from or taken to the districts of Masaka, Ssembabule, Lyantonde, Kalungu, Kiruhura, among others.