Home > Uncategorized > Breeding stigma does not avoid teen pregnancy: Ron Assimwe makes the case for adolescents in Uganda

Couples & Family Therapy student conducts IPV research in Uganda

How does social stigma impact an 18-year-old Ugandan mother? Doctoral student Ron Asiimwe is looking to the heart (and mind) of this question in his latest paper. The story begins inside Tororo district hospital, a medium-sized hospital in rural eastern Uganda. Interviews were collected from 100 adolescents, who “were pregnant or recently gave birth,” about their stress levels and history with gender-based violence. With a background in Couple & Family Therapy, Ron’s paper evaluates how stigma surrounding teen pregnancy influences intimate partner violence — a phenomenon that 45% of adolescents said they had experienced. 

Ron co-authored the paper with doctoral student Chi-Fang Tseng (Human Develop & Family Studies) and Dr. Itziar Familiar-Lopez (Global Neuropsychiatry Research Group). The paper is currently under review for publication in Journal of Adolescence. 

Association of Pregnancy-Related Stigma and Intimate Partner Violence with Psychological Distress Among Adolescents in Rural Uganda

Ron Asiimwe, Chi-Fang Tseng, and Itziar Familiar-Lopez, PhD


Introduction: We explored the association between pregnancy-related stigma and intimate partner violence with psychological distress among adolescent females in rural eastern Uganda.  

Methods: We interviewed a convenience sample of 100 adolescents (>18 years) who were pregnant (> 3 months) or recently gave birth (< 3 month) at Tororo District Hospital, Uganda. Psychological distress (depression and anxiety symptoms) was evaluated using the Hopkins Symptom Checklist (HSCL-25), physical and sexual intimate partner violence (IPV) were assessed using the WHO violence against women instrument, and pregnancy-related stigma was captured using an ad hoc questionnaire. Regression models were used to evaluate associations of pregnancy stigma and IPV with distress.

Results: Participants’ mean age was 18 years, 84% were primiparous, 66% were married and 57% had only primary school-level education. 48% women had clinically meaningful distress levels. 45% percent reported sexual IPV, 32% physical IPV, and 86% reported experiencing pregnancy-related stigma. Adjusted models showed that higher levels of psychological distress were associated with higher report of pregnancy-related stigma (β= 0.27, p =0.03), physical IPV, (β = -0.24, p< 0.01), or sexual IPV (β= -0.19, p=0.05), compared to those who did not.  Unemployed (β= -0.24, p=0.01) and lower educational level (β= -0.21, p=0.05) were also independent predictors of psychological distress. 

Conclusion: Findings suggest that IPV is common among adolescents in rural Uganda IP, as is pregnancy-related stigma, and both are independent predictors of psychological distress. The implications of these findings and the need for clinical interventions for IPV among adolescents are discussed.

Key words: Adolescent pregnancy, psychological distress, stigma, intimate partner violence, Uganda

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