The mountains in Mahango sub-county in Kasese are picturesque. The steep foothill inclines rise high above the clouds, lush with fertile soils and rich vegetation. The air is clean and crisp, and the cold rivers are clear and bursting with life.
As you descend the mountains, however, there is another story to be told. The poverty in Mahango is evident. People live from hand to mouth, relying on small subsistence farms to eke out a living. Those who are able to sell their produce barely make enough to save for the future.
In the small trading centre of Kabwarara, it appears that business is booming. However on a closer look, only one trade is minting money. Cheap potent alcohol is on sale all over the trading centre. The sachets, some which are sold for little as 200 Ugandan shillings, are a low-cost lure for many. Those hooked on the drink start to consume it as early as 8 o’clock in the morning, and often don’t stop long after the sun goes down.
The rising sale of cheap alcohol appears to have increased alcoholism in this small mountain community. This had had a knock-on effect on almost all activity in Kabwarara. Parents have abandoned their family duties to their children. Teachers are missing from classes. Several small subsistence farms have gone unattended for many months.
17-year-old Grace Biira is one of the victims of the cheap alcohol trade. She dropped out of school in senior two, lured into a job selling alcohol at a bar in Kabwarara.
Now, Grace has three children, and is entirely dependent on her poorly paying job to care for her growing family.
Grace is one of the thousands of girls in Uganda who drop out of school every year. Like many of her peers she was forced out of home by abusive parents, and into an early marriage.
Although her current situation is dire, Grace says she is better off now than she was when she lived at home.
Although there are several employment opportunities for Grace in her home town, the scope is limited, and the chances that she will advance economically are few.
A 2014 report by UNICEF on the impact of child marriages found that low school progression rates in Uganda lead to a large number of girls leaving school early. This in turn has an impact on their ability to be productive in the labor market, and limits their economic capabilities and employment options.
The 2014 Housing and Population Census of Uganda found that in the past decade, the number of child marriages and school dropouts declined significantly.
However Sam Bwambale, chairperson of Kabwarara trading centre, says more needs to be done to educate people about the causes of teenage pregnancies and school dropouts. He says more parents should be educated on their responsibility in order to protect their girls.