What you need to know:
- Human rights violations including teen pregnancy, FGM, child marriage continue to be key problems in the country.
- The recent exposé that 250,000 girls dropped out of school following the nine-month long Covid-19 instigated school closure demonstrate the need to focus on solutions to these stubborn issues that conspire to keep adolescent girls and young women from sustainable economic opportunities.
When she confirmed that her 15-year-old daughter was pregnant, Mary Ruth was devastated. Even the reality that she would become a grandmother, did not excite the mother of seven.
The 35-year-old had always harboured dreams of a great life for herself and the children, especially the three daughters, on successful completion of their education.
She was determined to ensure her children, the girls particularly, would prosper where she did not, through education. She would not allow anything or anyone, including family and community members in her Narok County to force them into early marriage. The county, according to the 2014 Kenya Demographic Health Survey, has the highest prevalence of teenage pregnancy at 40 per cent.
The determined mother was still smarting from the disappointment she had gone through a few years earlier when relatives tricked her two elder daughters, including the subject, to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM), when they were only eight and nine years old, respectively.
She was, however, remained fiercely protective of the girls, ensuring they continued with their education without further disruption.
The ‘discovery’ that the daughter, a Class Eight, was pregnant broke her; she could not live with the reality of the girl dropping out of school.
“The idea that my children would lead a life of hardship and misery that I have endured from childhood, almost drives me into a depression,” Ms Ruth, who was married off at only nine years after undergoing the cut, narrates to this writer in Narok town.
As fate would have it, her daughter delivered a baby just two days before the KCPE examination. She rented alternative accommodation at a trading centre near the girl’s school and moved in with her for the examination duration.
Given the long distance from home to school and the fact that the minor had just delivered, Ms Ruth babysat while the child’s mother did her exams and during revision.
These are some of the ways parents whose daughters fall prey to teenage pregnancy have devised to keep the girls in school.
“It is really hard economically and socially,’’ says Ruth who attributes her daughter’s (now back in school) situation to peer pressure, especially after undergoing FGM.
At the time of our interview, the young grandmother had attended a high profile stakeholders meeting that brought together locals, including the community’s, gatekeepers and national interest groups, to seek solutions to the touchy teenage pregnancy issue, which together with FGM and child marriage, are violations of the girls’ rights as perpetrators seek to control their sexuality.
These human rights violations continue to be key problems in the country, as does the greater gender-based violence (GBV) the empowerment and sensitisation and efforts around it notwithstanding.
But it is the recent exposé that 250,000 girls dropped out of school following the nine-month long Covid-19 instigated closure of schools - with 160,000 aged 10-19 years failing to resume studies in January after falling pregnant or being married off - that should jolt the country into action.
The report and others before it, demonstrate the need to focus on solutions to these stubborn issues that conspire to keep adolescent girls and young women from sustainable economic opportunities.
In this aspect, some stakeholders are working jointly towards solutions to teenage pregnancy, child marriage, and ending FGM. The government declared a 2022 deadline to wipe out the retrogressive practice of the cut.
Among the stakeholders is theNational Council for Population and Development (NCPD), a semi-autonomous government agency under the Planning ministry.
In partnership with local interest groups in counties and at national level who work around adolescent sexual reproductive health, the NCPD is coordinating a campaign to end teenage pregnancy through creating awareness. The agency argues that while the country has made progress to improve adolescent and youth sexual reproductive health, it is critical to respond with urgency to challenges that threaten gains made.
The campaign, which started in February in Kisumu, Homa Bay, Siaya, Vihiga and Narok counties, focuses on identifying the promoters of teenage pregnancy and its effects. It strives to deal with the issue through sustainable aspects, with the interest groups seeking to address the underlying economic, social and cultural factors, even as they focus on the adolescents’ behaviour change.
NCPD identifies one strategy to deal with teenage pregnancy to include working with parents and teachers as key stakeholders. This has seen a network of teachers and parents formed in the counties.
In Nairobi County, which has a 17 per cent teenage pregnancy prevalence, the agency and the Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS) held the first parents and teachers’ network meeting that also included representatives from the Education ministry and the Teachers Service Commission in June.
The meeting sought strategies to end child pregnancy in line with commitments made at the 2019 Nairobi International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action (ICPD25). The focus is to implement particularly commitment No. 1, which promises to use innovation and technology to make sure adolescents and youth “attain their highest standards of health, specifically eliminating teenage pregnancies, new HIV infections and harmful practices like child marriages, while ensuring universal access to friendly quality reproductive health information and services.”
The forum identified poverty, social media influence, drugs and substance abuse, as well as lack of parental guidance “with parents too busy in economic activities” as catalysts of teenage pregnancy in Nairobi.
The NCPD’s hopes interest groups will build consensus on county-specific campaigns that will emanate from the national dialogue. This, according to the organisation, will not only ensure communities own the response, but also bring forth strengthened strategies to end the problem in Kenya.
In Narok, a synchronised approach in investigating and prosecuting cases of child abuse as well as sensitisation of girls, teachers and parents forums and stakeholders meetings, is bearing fruit. The county’s Education department says it has recorded a sharp rise in teenage pregnancy at 41 per cent between 2018 and 2021, with the ratio of expectant girls at 1:18.
“There is a relationship between the literacy level and teenage pregnancy, performance and pregnancy and so at the Ministry of Education, we are pushing for 100 per cent transition and improved performance,” Mr Robert Moseti, told a Narok convening on the issue in March.
He cited entrenchment of guidance and counselling in schools, enforcing the re-entry policy for rescued girls, as well as ensuring they receive sanitary towels, as some of the initiatives the ministry is pursuing to end cases of motherhood in childhood and keeping the girls in school.
Sexual and reproductive health
The Narok County Gender Sector Working Group comprising 21 civil society organisations and government ministries as well as the county’s department of Health and Sanitation, are unanimous that violation of girls’ rights through FGM, peer pressure, lack of knowledge on sexual and reproductive health, inadequate parental guidance, as well as poverty, are the leading causes of teenage pregnancy in the county.
In addition, the CSOs recommend establishment of youth-friendly centres with staff to provide comprehensive sexual reproductive health and rights services.
The Nairobi teachers and parents network forum also propose the setting up of similar centres at the sub-counties, with provision of spaces where teenage mothers can leave their babies while in school, “because not all parents are willing to take care of the babies”.
Awareness creation, strengthening implementation of protection policies for girls including the Sexual Offences Act, the ‘back to school’ policy, and emphasis on teachers educating learners on life skills, are some of the proposals they made to end child motherhood.
They also recommended that teenage mothers be supported to become champions in ending the problem among their peers.