A teenage pregnancy crisis has caught the attention of pastors from a village in Meru county, who have now linked the vice to a local congregation.
Alarmed by the ‘baby boom’, residents of Athwana ward in Tigania West led by the local pastors’ forum have written to the authorities calling for a probe into the dealings of a church they accuse of holding endless night vigils commonly known as ‘kesha’.
The vigils at Neema Conerstone Church in Limoro village are said to have turned into a ‘defilement’ trap where teenagers end up pregnant, consequently dropping out of school.
According to the letter seen by Nation, residents claim more than 10 girls have dropped out of school due to pregnancies and early marriages.
“The keshas have resulted in teenage pregnancies hence high rate of school dropout…” the letter reads in part.
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The residents argue that the endless night vigils have not only caused teen pregnancies but also absenteeism and a decline in performance among learners.
“The denomination is conducting ‘keshas’ from Monday to Sunday every week hence resulting in poor education standards because pupils have no time to do their homework, absenteeism and they sleep in class…” the letter reads.
According to Pastor James Kainga of Kenya Assemblies of God, the area pastors' forum took up the issue after getting complaints from the community.
"We engaged the community and the council of elders to find a solution before we called in the authorities. The problem has been building up for several years. A 16-year-old girl gave birth two weeks ago while a class six girl is pregnant," Pastor Kainga said.
Reverend Peter Kithure called for urgent intervention from the authorities to tame the rising teen pregnancies.
"We are glad that the area Assistant County Commissioner has banned school going children from attending the night vigils. However, the authorities should investigate and get to the bottom of it. We cannot allow the community to go astray as we watch," Rev Kithure said.
He said the protest letter written by the pastors was also accompanied by concerns raised by teachers.
A teacher who spoke to Nation confirmed that cases of absenteeism, dozing off in class and teen pregnancies were linked to the daily night vigils.
Meru County has been in the limelight for a high number of teen pregnancies in recent years with about 38 percent of all pregnancies being of teenage mothers.
According to data from the Kenya Health Information System, more than 13,000 teen pregnancies were recorded in 2021, a slight drop compared to about 14,500 teenage pregnancies in 2020.
The data also indicates a sharp rise in abortions with the number rising from 2,700 cases recorded in 2020 to 4,000 in 2021.
The high number of teen pregnancies has caught the attention of the National Council for Population and Development (NCPD), which is engaging teachers and parents in Meru County.
According to Ms Victoria Mutiso, the NCPD population coordinator in Eastern North region, they are particularly concerned by the high number of teen pregnancies and abortions in Meru.
"We are targeting teachers and parents so that they can inculcate values in our girls to prevent the teen pregnancies. We want parents to be actively involved in monitoring their children to keep the cases in check. In other counties, we are using a multisectoral approach involving various stakeholders," Ms Mutiso said during a training for teachers and parents in Meru town last week.
Meru county health department is also working closely with administrators, religious organisations, elders and the judiciary to reduce cases of teenage pregnancies.