What you need to know:
- Last year, Global Childhood statistics showed Kenya had the third-highest teen pregnancy rate, 82 births per 1,000.
- The WHO says complications relating to pregnancy and childbirth are already the leading cause of death for girls aged 15-19. Some 3.9 million unsafe abortions among girls aged 15-19 occur yearly.
The closure of schools in mid March to curb the spread of the coronavirus has exposed seven million girls to gender-based violence, sexual exploitation such as defilement and rape and unwanted early pregnancy. Most were violated by their relatives and people they knew.
“Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2014” shows one in five girls aged 15-19 were either pregnant or had children. Last year, Global Childhood statistics showed Kenya had the third-highest teen pregnancy rate, 82 births per 1,000. A recent United Nations Population Fund report estimates that the country had 378,397 adolescent and teenage pregnancies among girls 10-19 in July 2016-June 2017 — 28,932 girls of ages 10-14 and 349,465 aged 15-19.
Early pregnancy can deny girls their rights, including the right to education as set out in SDG 4, and social support for healthy development and a secure and successful transition to adulthood.
“Kenya Health Information System Survey” shows more than 4,000 girls aged 19 and below were reported to be pregnant during the Covid-19 lockdown. Expect a sharp surge in cases if the pandemic continues and the longer schools are closed because of the virus. Poverty, stigma and lack of sex education remain the driving force for the trend.
The WHO says complications relating to pregnancy and childbirth are already the leading cause of death for girls aged 15-19. Some 3.9 million unsafe abortions among girls aged 15-19 occur yearly, contributing to maternal mortality, morbidity and lasting health problems such as virginal fistula. Pregnant girls and young mothers face even greater risks during crises such as the ongoing pandemic.
A 2017 study into maternal deaths in Kenya showed nine per cent of girls who died in the hospital were teenagers. And of pregnant teenagers who survive childbirth, 98 per cent drop out of school.
During health crises, resources are often diverted from routine health services, further reducing access to sexual and reproductive healthcare such as maternal, newborn and child health services.
It is also difficult for sexual and reproductive health workers to appropriately screen for sexual and gender-based violence, making justice harder to get.
In 2014, the UNFPA reports revealed that a staggering14,000 teenage girls became pregnant during the Ebola virus epidemic in Sierra Leone.
Society is deviating from a conservative traditional values and attitudes on sexual education. Teenagers should be engaged as advocates against early pregnancy, urgently address poverty as the basic cause of teenage pregnancy, awareness creation and sensitisation on school re-entry and engage teenage girls as stakeholders to develop interventions tailored towards their needs and concerns.
Organisations already focused on GSBV can be provided with the tools and resources to continue supporting girls during the pandemic.