Rael Kemboi* lulls her two-week-old granddaughter before handing her over to the mother.
In a busy morning, she then moves to guide another young mother on how to breastfeed her toddler.
This is Mrs Kemboi’s daily routine after her teen twin daughters gave birth three days apart earlier this month. A mother of eight, three of her daughters were impregnated within four years.
“I welcomed two more grandchildren from my last-born twins last September, who were impregnated while in Standard Six, aged 13. Their elder sister, who is now in Form One, also has a baby,” Mrs Kemboi told the Nation at her Tebeson home in Turbo, Uasin Gishu County.
In the next two years, she will be confined at home to nurture her grandchildren as their mothers return to class. Most of her peers and other elderly women have been turned into ‘foster’ mothers to allow their daughters to go back to school.
“Their mothers are too young to be left under their care. At night, I have to stay awake to ensure they don’t roll over and smother the toddlers to death. They cannot handle the babies because they are still too young, so I have to guide them,” she said.
Tucked yonder in the rolling Chepsaita hills, Tebeson village is steadily gaining notoriety as a hotbed of teenage pregnancies in the region.
The county is grappling with rampant cases of young mothers, which have sharply risen in the recent past. Though opinion is divided whether the Covid-19 pandemic is to blame, what’s not in dispute is the fact that teen pregnancies have dogged the community for several years.
Statistics and anecdotal evidence from health facilities augment this fact, with officials saying four in every 10 pregnancies involve teenagers. The county teenage pregnancy stands at 22 per cent, which is higher than the national average of 18 per cent.
Kenya Demographic Health Survey 2014 also indicates that one in every five adolescent girls either has a baby, or is pregnant with her first child.
In Uasin Gishu, 4,750 teenage pregnancies were recorded last year. From January to the beginning of September, the county documented 3,672 pregnancies of children between 10 and 19.
Number could be higher
Given that these statistics are only of those who sought antenatal care and were attended to in formal clinics, the number could be much higher.
“During the Covid-19 pandemic, teenage pregnancies increased by half. Many homes have teenage mothers, some as young as 12. What’s alarming is the trend at which it’s gaining speed without any action being taken by authorities,” noted Ms Lilian Kosgei, a community health volunteer.
The situation has caused already struggling families pressed to raise extra income. As the breadwinner, Mrs Kemboi hawked vegetables to put food on the table, but not anymore as she has devoted her time to the babies.
“Fending for the family is now a huge challenge. The babies and their mothers need food and clothing. I now depend on well-wishers and relatives for food and other basic needs,” she offered.
She raised her daughters well, according to Christian teachings, but doesn’t understand where she went wrong.
Lost for words
“We attended church religiously and when my daughters got pregnant, I was lost for words, because I’ve been educating them on the dangers of teen sex. When a girl is defiled in the village, the matter is swept under the carpet and this has encouraged the vice,” Mrs Kemboi said.
“One of the men who impregnated one of my daughters has since married a 14-year-old girl, and they already have a baby.”
The twins were lured by two men with a promise of marriage after studies.
“When I told him that I was pregnant, he denied responsibility and warned me to keep off his affairs. He said he wasn’t ready to be a father,” said one of the girls, who aspires to be a doctor.
Her sister, who hopes to be a teacher in future, faced a similar challenge. “He chased me out of his house. He later packed his belongings and fled.”
The Nation established that the alleged paedophiles are mainly shopkeepers, bodaboda riders and school dropouts.
Just a few metres from Mrs Kemboi’s home, Mrs Kobilo Chemitei, 82, was also busy taking care of her great-granddaughter.
“I am happy she chose to go back to school. There are other children I am taking care of. It’s a huge challenge, given my age,” she said.
Mrs Chemitei urged policymakers to come up with solutions to remedy the menace, which is getting out of hand.
Another elderly woman, Mrs Lenah Kiptum, is nursing two grandchildren, one of whom is barely six months.
“One is back in school after spending a year at home to take care of the baby, who is now two years. I hope the one with the six-month old baby will return to class in the third term,” she said at her Osorongai home.
At Esther Anyona’s home, a widow, the situation is dire. Unlike the other women, she lives in a rented home and depends on menial jobs for survival. What’s troubling her is the fact that the daughters were impregnated by members of the same family.
“My second-born and third-born were impregnated when they were 13 and 14 years respectively. The third-born has a two-month-old baby and had to abandon her studies despite having gained admission to high school. The eldest lives with her baby in Kisumu where she works as a house-help,” she offered.
Mrs Anyona said when she attempted to seek a solution with the family of the men responsible, she was chased away.
“My daughters delivered through caesarean section. Sadly, government officials have failed to assist us to hold these men accountable. It’s frustrating as there’s nothing much we can do without support from authorities,” she said.
A teacher at St John Soin primary told the Nation that there are seven pregnant pupils in the school.
“There are two in Standard Eight, four in Standard Seven and one in Class Six. The sad part is that we are alone in this fight. Teachers are threatened when they call out the alleged paedophiles, so just do our work and ignore these cases,” he noted.
It was recently discovered that a shopkeeper had been defiling a Grade Five pupil for about two years, but nothing was done. No action was taken.
“When we tried to engage the provincial administration on the matter, they did not cooperate. In fact, it appeared to us they were protecting the man. It’s a sad situation,” said the teacher.
Villagers admitted that such cases were widespread and appealed to the government to intervene and save the children.
“I am aware of at least 30 girls, barely 15 years old, who are pregnant. When Form Ones were joining school, 10 of them left babies at home in just this village. Sadly, even those in high school drop out because of pregnancies,” said Ms Irene Jeptoo, a local community health volunteer.
She blamed the local administration for turning a blind eye to the matter as paedophiles roam the villages.
“The chiefs and their assistants are failing us. No one seems bothered to take action. We do not remember the last time there was a village baraza to address issues affecting the people. Laxity from administrators has left many families suffering. We need change,” said Mr Silas Tiony, a resident.
Uasin Gishu Health executive, Dr Evelyn Rotich, called for concerted efforts to end the menace.
“As you can see from the statistics, the trend is worrying and despite the Covid-19 pandemic, which exposed the teens to peer pressure and freedom, there is an element of coercion and force, which made the girls engage in sex. Poverty is also to blame as they are lured by gifts,” said the executive.
She said the numbers could be higher because there are those who do not attend antenatal clinics.
“There is lack of information on sex education as most parents give room to social media and peer pressure. The girls are sexually exploited, resulting in pregnancies,” she added.
Dr Rotich said the settling of sexual cases through Kangaroo courts has also encouraged paedophiles and called on authorities to enforce child protection laws.
Uasin Gishu pregnancies by sub-county
Ainabkoi 580 789
Kapseret 326 618
Kesses 824 678
Moiben 450 772
Soy 792 1,028
Turbo 700 860