Sirina Babirye,17, was a victim of gender-based violence, one of the most intimate abuses of human rights in Uganda and the continent at large.
At a tender age of 12, Babirye was raped by a group of four men.
“My mother was preparing dinner and realized that we had no salt, so I was sent to the nearby shop to collect some. As I returned, I was met by a group of four boys who proceeded to rape me, in turns. It was too much to bear, and I was left on the floor fighting to remain conscious,” she recalled.
In Africa, 1 out of 5 girls have been sexually abused in their childhood directly impacting their sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Sub-national studies indicate that children in Africa grow up with overwhelming levels of sexual violence in homes, schools, and communities. Such violence remains largely under-reported and under-addressed.
Studies show more than two-thirds (75.8%) reported having experienced sexual violence, such as being touched.
Girls experience sexual violence more often than boys, with 46.5% reporting that had been touched sexually against their will and one fifth (20.5%) reporting that they had been forced to have sex.
Babirye like a few victims sought help and was referred to a hospital one week later. On arrival, she was informed that her pregnancy results had come back positive.
“At this point, my life turned dark. As my pregnancy wore on, I became the talk of the village. My friends deserted me, my mother began torturing me psychologically, and I was forced to drop out of school,” she narrated, adding, “I thought my only way out was suicide. I had become an outcast, and somehow, this pregnancy was my fault.”
Forced to make a life for herself and her newborn, Babirye began doing meager jobs to earn an allowance. She was making less than Shs 2,000 (50 cents) a day and it was not enough for both her and her child.
“Foolishly, I took solace in a man who wooed me with petty cash and gifts. I was ignorant, naïve and vulnerable and ended up pregnant again. The man I thought was my refuge ran away upon hearing the news and I was left abandoned yet again,” she added.
According to reports, 1 million girls under 15 give birth every year in Africa, and Babirye’s story has been echoed across the globe.
BRAC’s ELA, a program that seeks to improve Uganda’s social protection system to effectively prevent and respond to Sexual Gender Based Violence (GBV) and Violence against Children (VAC) came to Babirye’s rescue in her “darkest moments.”
The program is allowing adolescent girls to learn and tackle critical social issues including sexual and reproductive health, early marriage, gender-based violence, all within safe spaces.
Babirye joined the program after the birth of her second child, and slowly she has become a more hopeful individual.
“I know later this year, I’m going to get my savings from this Sacco and I’ll start my clothes selling business. And maybe one day, I’ll make enough money to return and complete my primary education. I’ll start small but I believe I’ll grow big someday, no man can deceive me again,” she says with a smile on her face.
Although Government and stakeholders have developed an action plan against child sexual abuse, its implementation requires effective coordination, resourcing and advocacy.