We must urgently curb teenage pregnancies, uphold girls’ rights
What you need to know:
- Beneath the numbers are real girls, most of whom had their learning disrupted and prospects for dignified and fulfilling work curtailed.
- At the policy level, the national and county governments can commit additional resources to youth-friendly preventive services, personnel, equipment and medicine.
- It prioritises sensitisation for the youth, parents and community leaders on reproductive health and the prevention of teenage pregnancy and early marriage.
After the International Day of the Girl Child, it’s now time to take stock of an alarming trend that threatens to roll back the gains in empowering girls and women over the past few decades: Teenage pregnancy. The day was marked on Tuesday.
In January and February, the Health ministry reported 45,724 pregnancies among girls aged 10-19, an average of 775 a day, and 98 new HIV infections weekly, suggesting a parallel increase among young mothers.
Beneath the numbers are real girls, most of whom had their learning disrupted and prospects for dignified and fulfilling work curtailed.
Studies show girls who complete secondary school are likely to earn more, bear healthier children and have up to 21 per cent fewer unwanted pregnancies, yet only about two per cent of teen mothers return to school.
There are multiple reasons for this. In a study in Homa Bay County, 47 per cent of teenage mothers cited lack of access to childcare services as one of the biggest barriers to school re-entry.
Societal stigma from peers and teachers was also blamed.
Teenage pregnancy must be addressed urgently and with sustained focus. Everybody has a role to play.
We can begin by encouraging age-appropriate conversations around reproductive health so that the youth have the information they need to make informed choices.
At the policy level, the national and county governments can commit additional resources to youth-friendly preventive services, personnel, equipment and medicine.
And we have a strong foundation to build on. Kenya has many laudable laws that protect girls and encourage school return for teenage mothers.
The Sexual Offences Act, for instance, is a strong deterrent against sexual offences. The Children Act criminalises child abandonment, corporal punishment, child pornography, child grooming and bullying (such as online harassment), which can lead to teenage pregnancy and early marriage.
Besides, multiple non-state actors are working alongside one another and with the government to strengthen the policy environment and empower young women, especially through education and training that helps them to access dignified and fulfilling work.
In the Coast region, the Okoa Sasa Rescue Center helps to protect abused, vulnerable children and young, mostly teenage, mothers.
In West Pokot, the Global Give Back Circle leverages digital platforms at HER Lab, its economic empowerment incubator for rural adolescent girls, to connect over 3,000 mentors from around the world with at-risk adolescent girls to offer a listening ear without judgement, as well as give counsel, validation, rights awareness and a sense of what’s possible with education.
In addition, participants acquire marketable workforce-readiness skills and life skills like reproductive health.
Recently, the Forum for African Women Educationalists (Fawe) launched the Imarisha Msichana programme in partnership with the MasterCard Foundation, Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (Creaw) and Kenya Red Cross Society.
In 20 counties deemed most at-risk, in collaboration with the government, it will generate higher quality data on teenage pregnancy for informed decision-making.
It prioritises sensitisation for the youth, parents and community leaders on reproductive health and the prevention of teenage pregnancy and early marriage.
The work by the many organisations focused on the rights of girls and young women is critical to the prevention of the incidence of teenage pregnancy, enhancing the re-entry of young mothers to school and, ultimately, enabling them to access dignified and fulfilling work.
However, every Kenyan should become a champion for the rights and well-being of the girl child. It takes a village to not just raise a girl but also protect and empower her.
Ms Kariuki is CEO, Kenya Private Sector Alliance (Kepsa); [email protected] @KuiKariukiC. Ms Lockhart is founder-CEO, Global Give Back Circle; [email protected] @GlobalGiveBack. Ms Muhwezi is executive director, Fawe Africa; [email protected] @MarthaMuhwezi. Ms Wachira is executive director, Creaw; [email protected] @Wwangechi_leah.