What you need to know:
- Uasin Gishu County’s teen pregnancy rate stands at 22 per cent, higher than the national average of 18 per cent.
- Many homes have teenage mothers, some as young as 12.
- The settling of sexual cases through Kangaroo courts has encouraged paedophiles to thrive in the villages. She calls on authorities to enforce child protection laws
Rael Kemboi* lulls her two-week-old granddaughter before handing the child over to its mother. She then moves to guide another young mother on how to breastfeed her infant.
This is Ms Kemboi’s daily routine after her teenage twin daughters gave birth three days apart earlier this month.
For the mother of eight, three of her daughters were impregnated within four years.
“I welcomed two more grandchildren from my last-born twins this September, who were impregnated while in Standard Six, aged 13. Their elder sister, who is now in Form One, also has a baby,” Ms Kemboi tells nation.africa at her Tebeson home in Turbo, Uasin Gishu County.
For the next two years, she will be confined at home nurturing her grandchildren as their mothers return to class. Many of her peers have been turned into ‘foster’ mothers to allow their daughters to go back to school.
“Their mothers are too young to be left with their care. At night, I have to stay awake to ensure they don’t roll over and smother the babies to death. They cannot handle the babies because they are still too young, so I have to guide them,” Ms Kemboi says.
Uasin Gishu County has been grappling with rising cases of underage mothers.
Statistics and anecdotal evidence from health facilities augment this fact, with officials saying four in every 10 pregnancies involve teenagers. The county teenage pregnancy rate stands at 22 per cent, higher than the national average of 18 per cent.
The county recorded 4,750 teenage pregnancies last year. Between January and the beginning of September, the county documented 3,672 pregnancies of girls aged between 10 and 19 years.
Given that these statistics are only those who sought antenatal care and were attended to in formal clinics, the number could be 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,” notes Ms Lilian Kosgei, a community health volunteer.
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,” says the executive.
The situation has caused already struggling families to be further pressed. As the breadwinner, Ms Kemboi hawked vegetables but she cannot do that 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 says.
“When a girl is defiled in the village, the matter is swept under the carpet and this has encouraged the vice,” Ms Kemboi says.
Dr Rotich says the settling of sexual cases through Kangaroo courts has encouraged paedophiles to thrive in the villages. She calls on authorities to enforce child protection laws.
“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,” Dr Rotich adds.
As a result, Tebeson Village, tucked deep in the Chepsaita Hills, is steadily gaining notoriety as a hotbed of teenage pregnancies.
“One of the men who impregnated one of my daughters has since married a 14-year-old girl, and they already have a baby,” notes Ms Kemboi.
Promise of marriage
The twins were lured by two men with a promise of marriage.
One of the girls, who aspires to be a doctor, says of her ordeal: “When I told him I was pregnant, he denied responsibility and warned me to keep off his affairs. He said he wasn’t ready to be a father.”
Her sister’s story is similar.
“He chased me out of his house. He later packed his belongings and fled,” she says.
Nation.africa established that the alleged paedophiles are mainly shopkeepers, boda boda operators and school dropouts.
Just a few metres from Ms Kemboi’s home, Kobilo Chemitei, 82, is also busy taking care of her great-granddaughter.
“I am happy she chose to go back to school. But there are other children I am taking care of. It’s a huge challenge, given my age,” Ms Chemitei says.
Another elderly woman, Lenah Kiptum, is nursing two grandchildren, one of whom is barely six months.
“One of my daughters 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,” Ms Kiptum says at her Osorongai home.
But the situation at Esther Anyona’s home, a widow, is dire. Unlike the other women, she lives in a rented house and depends on menial jobs.
“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 offers.
Ms Anyona says when she attempted to seek a solution with the family of the men responsible, she was chased away.
“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 says.
A teacher at St John Soin Primary School tells nation.africa that there are seven pregnant pupils in the school.
“There are two in Class Eight, four in Class 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 we just do our work and ignore these cases,” he notes.
It was recently discovered that a shopkeeper had been defiling a Grade Five pupil for about two years.
“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,” said the teacher.
“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,” says Ms Irene Jeptoo, a local community health volunteer.
She blames the local administration for turning a blind eye as paedophiles roam the villages.