What you need to know:
- Statistics from Global Childhood 2019, places Kenya third-highest on the number of teen pregnancy rates in Africa with 82 births per 1,000.
- Shida*, 16, gave birth in July; a boda boda rider with whom she had a relationship for only four months, was responsible.
- Ms Owino* met her boyfriend at a local market, knew him for five months only, and he supported her in getting pads and a little pocket money.
- Karen*, 19, dropped out of school in 2015 when due to poverty ; she met a 30-year-old man who promised to take care of her but...
There is nothing as heartbreaking as a parent discovering their teenage daughter is pregnant. Such life-changing news can be overwhelming to hear. Teenage pregnancy is a cause for concern worldwide. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says an estimated 21 million girls aged 15–19 years get pregnant in developing countries annually. The United Nations says Africa has the highest adolescent pregnancy rates in the world.
And statistics from Global Childhood 2019, places Kenya third-highest on the number of teen pregnancy rates in Africa with 82 births per 1,000.
Teen mothers' life journeys
Marion* remembers that as a Form two student in 2016, she was heading home from school for theDecember holiday break. At the Karatina main stage, together with two other girls, a conspiracy to get naughty hit them.
“I think it was the demon that got into us…The next stop was a nearby bar where we bought ourselves a beer each. We had changed from our school uniform to civilian clothes…” she says.
Three men joined their table and everything else as she says, is history. She never went back to school. She got married and to date, she has no knowledge about what happened to her two schoolmates.
“The six of us struck a union of mischief, we paired into three and booked different rooms. The following morning, after losing my chastity to the strange man, who I later learnt was a matatu driver, I went to his rented room in Sagana town where a month later, I got pregnant,” she says.
In 2017, at the age of 17, Marion gave birth to a baby boy.
“In retrospect, I know I erred and got myself on a path that was not my parents’ wish. I acknowledge I betrayed my future and auctioned it to a brief careless taste of freedom. But that is water under the bridge now. After I gave birth, my then 21-year-old husband started behaving oddly…” she says.
She adds: “All this time, I had not bothered to reach my parents. I heard on radio their appeal for me to go home wherever I was…that they loved me and they were missing me. My husband cautioned me about going home since we risked getting arrested. I concurred.”
“But as a mother who was having it rough since this man had started neglecting us, I borrowed Sh200 from a neighbour to help me travel home.”
“I had left my parents’ home a year before as a uniformed student, here I was returning a mother…I only remember my mother ululating before she collapsed in a heap…My father took my baby in his arms and neighbours trooped into our compound to witness the excitement. What overwhelmed me was when my mother came to and announced that I and my child were hers and my father affirmed…I will never overcome that manifestation of that parental love,” she says.
The parents counselled her and convinced her that all was not lost, that it was possible to pursue her education. She enrolled in a nearby day school where in 2019, she scored a B- and now awaits admission to Kenyatta University to pursue a Bachelor of Education course.
“I urge school girls to learn from my case that careless exercise of freedom is dangerous… I was lucky my parents were pragmatic enough to forgive me. There are many who walked my careless path and never got a chance to rise again,” she says.
It is 5.30pm when we find her seated on a mat outside their house. She is breastfeeding her one-month-old baby in the company of her two sisters.
Amina Shida*, 16, from Silala Village in Ganze Sub-county in Kilifi County gave birth in July. A boda boda rider with whom she had a relationship for only four months, was responsible.
She dropped out of school at Silala Primary School in Class Five, after she conceived. Amina met the boda boda rider, who is a neighbour, in August last year.
“He would see me walk to and from school, and also while going to the shop; that’s when he seduced me,” she says.
The man would buy her sanitary towels when her mother could not afford.
“I used not to have sanitary towels because we only got one packet at school, and it could take long before the teachers give us again; when I’d ask my mother for money, she’d says she doesn’t have money. My boyfriend would then bring them when we’d meet,” she says.
The man left her when she informed him of the pregnancy.
“Every night he used to wait for me at a nearby shop, take me to his house, then bring me back home; but he started avoiding me after he discovered I am pregnant. I have never seen him again,” she adds.
Amina is jovial when we start this interview, but breaks into tears along the way.
She is the seventh born in a family of 12 children being raised by a single mother. Their mother sells Mnazi for a living, while their father died more than ten years ago.
She plaits hair for Sh50 to take care of her baby.
“Sometimes I don’t get a client for more than one week and I am forced to get soap from the shop on credit or borrow from my elder sister,” she adds.
Amina says life is difficult; her siblings sometimes refuse to take care of her baby as she goes to the river to fetch water.
“I go through many challenges because I do everything for myself including going to fetch water to wash my baby. My siblings sometimes mock me for giving birth. They even accuse me of stealing their money and my mother beats me up. I have been beaten twice after giving birth,” she says.
She wishes the government would compel the man to provide for the baby’s upkeep. Aisha hopes to go back to school and complete her studies so that she can attain her dream of becoming an aeronautical engineer.
We find Brenda Owino* and her eight- month-old baby outside her humble homestead. She is seated with her siblings and sickly mother. Her father is untying the few sheep, goats and cows ready for grazing.
Ms Owino, 18, is the third born among the eight children. Things turned south last year when she got pregnant and dropped out of school. The man responsible for her pregnancy has since gone missing.
“I met my boyfriend at a local market. I knew him for five months only. He would support me with essential things that I lacked at home such as pads and a little pocket,” she recalls.
The last she heard about him was March last year, when she broke the news of her pregnancy. He does odd jobs around the village, but has never shown interest to support the baby.
“It was the toughest time of my life. I thought the guy loved me, but he rejected the pregnancy. I even contemplated abortion,” she says.
But her mother talked her out of the idea.
“I gathered courage and told her about the pregnancy. Deep down I knew she already knew about it. My father was the most disappointed person at me,” she says.
Faced with a lot of shame, she missed the chance to sit for her Kenya Certificate for Primary Education. She says her former school did not allow her to sit for the exam. Ms Owino has to do odd jobs to support her baby. She cleans dishes at a local hotel on Wednesdays, earning Sh100 a day, which she uses to cater for her son’s needs.
“It’s tough being a teenage mother. I have a child to feed and clothe. I don’t get much help from my parents. I have to work extra,” she says.
In the course of her pregnancy, she lost friends. Many rejected her. She is only left with one friend from another village.
“I have learnt from my mistakes. I regret engaging in premarital sex, which led to my dropping out of school. If only I could turn back the hands of time, things would not have been the same,” she says.
She hopes to register for KCPE examinations next year.
“I have a lot to catch up with, but am determined to go back to school only of I could get help,” she says.
At 19, Karen* is already a mother of two children. She first got pregnant at 14 years while in primary school. Shortly after, she got married.
Karen dropped out of school in 2015 when due to poverty, and continued staying at their home in Mugumoini village, Kirinyaga County.
She later got a job as a casual labourer at a local rice and horticulture farm. As she walked home one day, a 30-year-old man, well known to her, approached and promised to marry and support her.
The young girl gave in and the same year, she got pregnant. Even before she delivered, Karen fled her matrimonial home and returned to her parents after the man started mistreating her.
“I needed money to buy sanitary pads, clothes and to support my parents and siblings. I told myself this was a good opportunity to live a better life. Before long, I realised I was wrong,” she says.
She delivered a baby boy while at her parents’ home. She had to fend for her new-born son single-handedly.
Early this year, she delivered another baby boy. The second child was sired by the same man who resides in the neighbouring village. Karen says she toils to raise her children as the man does not provide upkeep for them.
"He does not support me and my children. He does not even visit to see how we are doing yet we have suffered for long," she says.
The frail-looking mother, the third born in a family of eight, has been working as a casual labourer to feed her children.
“My parents are too busy taking care of seven other children, some in school, and they have no time for me. I don't blame them because they are also struggling to survive," she says.
On a good day, Karen earns Sh300, which is not even enough for her family.
“We can't afford three meals a day and I regret why I dropped out of school too early. Now I can't go back because there is no one to take care of my children who are too young," she adds.
Karen now contemplates suing the father of her children to compel him to take responsibility.
“I’m tired of providing for the children alone. I'm depressed because the manual jobs we do have been hard hit by The Covid-19 pandemic," says Karen.
She says she has become the laughing stock in the village. Her mother, Ms Wandia* says her daughter left school and without her knowledge.
“My daughter just stopped going to school but didn't tell me what the problem was. Later, I learnt that she had been married but due to many life challenges I was facing, I didn't pursue the matter with the authority," she explains.
“I realised she was pregnant one month after she came back home after she differed with the man responsible," she says.
Ms Wandia, also a casual labourer, admits she has a huge responsibility of fending for her family, and taking care of Karen and her two children is a strain on her finances.
“Getting enough food for the other children is difficult and since Karen has now matured, she should work hard to eke out a living like other young mothers in the village," says Ms Wandia.
Form One girl
It started off as a casual friendship between a Form One girl and her Form Three male friend from a different school, but morphed into another case of teenage pregnancy. She never anticipated it. It was third term of 2018, and she was only 15.
”We used to go to their school to recite poems. That day, students mingled freely and we ended up exchanging contacts. We had mobile phones and would text each other before we started chatting frequently,” recalls the 16-year-old girl.
Her mother had warned her against entertaining relationships, but like most teens, she ignored.
Peer pressure pushed her to engage in sex.
“He had promised that he would never abandon me, and would provide anything for us. But he just made a fool out of me. I blame myself and the adolescence stage,” she says.
Three months later, April last year, her body started feeling funny. She complained about nausea, diarrhoea, dizziness, and she could not concentrate in class. Her mother took her to a health facility for check-up.
“The tests confirmed the worst fears - I was indeed pregnant. Initially, I was scared but I felt a glimmer of hope when my mother accepted me and even advised me on how to go about the situation,” she tells Nation during an interview at their home in Huruma, Turbo, Uasin Gishu County.
She says her then boyfriend advised her to abort. Her mother’s friends also weighed in, suggesting they terminate the pregnancy. Luckily, her mum, a single mother, shrugged off the idea.
“I have lost friends because not everyone would want to associate with me as they consider me bad company. My mother too, lost most friends but I am grateful she stood by me. This is what keeps me going.”
Her life became stormy navigating through the new life. She stopped going to school when she was five months pregnant and started attending prenatal clinics. The young mother says there is a lot of stigma associated with teenage pregnancy.
“Whenever I stepped out of the house; some people would crack jokes and laugh about my situation. I really felt ashamed and traumatised.”
She delivered her baby girl, under the government’s Linda mama programme.
“There were some complications (the baby had excreted inside the womb) and the one doctor suggested I go for Caesarean delivery. Fortunately, I had a normal delivery,” she explains.
“Had we accepted abortion, maybe I could have lost my life or that of my baby. Right now, the bond with my baby is strong and I am a proud mother.”
With the bad experience, she has resolved to work hard and achieve her dream of becoming an air-hostess someday. Early this year, she resumed her studies, repeated Form Two in a different school.
“We changed schools and a few students and teachers know about what happened, but some still badmouth or insult you. I have learnt from my mistakes, I am now wiser and stronger.”
Has her life changed? “Yes, I have become more responsible and accepted myself more. I have learnt that it is possible to control myself and to work hard because life is difficult. Whenever I get chance to talk to other young girls, I do. I tell them not to accept lies peddled by male friends, she says.
Concerning her baby’s father she says: “We have never talked since he never bothered to provide for the child even though he completed his Form Four studies last year,” she says.
Mother of two
It is a family of 11, with no bread-winner; sheltered in a single-roomed shanty house somewhere in the wild terrains of Soweto in Kibra, Nairobi.
Two little children, aged two years and one month respectively, are wailing for the attention of their 19-year-old mother.
Apparently, hunger and the hostile environment reside here. But to their mother, Queenter Atieno*, the sad sounds of her little babies are familiar tunes.
Queenter’s parents left early morning in pursuit of daily bread. Her father is a mechanic, while her mother hawks mitumba (second hand)clothes, a business that has suffered multiple tragedies, including the recent Covid-19 related ban.
She has no idea whether her parents will come back with food. Her six younger siblings are out on the same streets - but she cannot explain exactly where. Soweto hosts some of the poorest families in Kibra slum.
This is the environment where Queenter and her firstborn child found themselves in 17 months ago. Prior to that, she lived with her grandmother in Kisian, Kisumu County.
“Due to peer pressure, poverty and lack of proper guidance of a responsible adult back in the village, I was impregnated by a boda rider. I was in Class Seven. I was not even 18 yet,” she says, adding that she dropped out of primary school in March 2019, before sitting for her KCPE exams.
The boda boda operator, disappeared into the thin air. Sadly, their arrival in Nairobi to stay with her parents would turn out to be another tragedy. Her parents demanded that she fends for the baby.
She had to vacate her ‘comfort zone’ and look for a job. In a city where jobs are hard to find, the only thing Queenter found was a 24-year-old ‘hustler’ electrician, living in the vicinity.
Within six months, she was pregnant – again. She delivered her second born last month. “Yes, the father of my second child is supportive but I cannot stay with him because he too, has no reliable job,” she explains.
Keen not to slide into the abyss of destitution, which is common place here, Queenter says she has since enrolled back in class at Shofco Adult Learning School (though schools are closed).
She is also being mentored at Awoche Woman and Child Empowerment Foundation.
“At Awoche, we mentor and support girls who have had unfortunate pasts like Valerie, to rebuild and find a new bearing in life. We also discourage irresponsible sexual relationships,” Ms Evelyn Bowa of Awoche explains.
Queenter recognises she messed up. First, unknowingly due to adolescence-related peer pressure and her naivety then. Secondly, knowingly, due to desperation instigated by her wild parents. However, she is still upbeat.
“It is wrong to get into motherhood as a teenager. Let every girl out there, especially those from poor families, understand that the world is hostile to all of them. Let them pay attention to their education. It is the only equaliser.”
At 17, *Nangila became pregnant with her high school boyfriend.
Her maternal grandmother at Darajani in Kibra slums in Nairobi County, hosts Nangila and her 20-month-old daughter. Every day she wakes up wishing she was in college pursuing an engineering course.
They were both in Form Four at a mixed-day school in Kakamega County when she became pregnant in the first term of 2018.
They had dated since they were in Form One but hadn’t had any sexual relations until March 2018, when they met in his house. She admits to having been naïve about safe sex.
“I wasn’t exposed to those things,” she says with a laughter.
For five months, she missed her periods but nudged off the idea that she could be pregnant.
“I didn’t imagine that one incident could result to pregnancy. I just thought something was amiss with my hormones,” recollects Nangila, who lived with her step-mother and father at Kaptis Village in Kakamega County.
Her step-mother, however, noticed her body changes and escorted her to a dispensary where it was confirmed she was indeed five months pregnant.
The news did not amuse her father. Her step-mother contested his attempts to chase the teen to the man who impregnated her.
She stood by Nangila, counselled her and held her accountable of ante-natal hospital visits. Her biological mother separated with her father when she was young.
She says her step-mother educated her through primary to secondary school.
“She really encouraged me, whenever I felt stressed because of my strained relationship with dad,” she says, “She always checked my hospital visits and reminded me to attend all scheduled sessions.”
All the while, her boyfriend was receptive. He took responsibility of the pregnancy and was ready to marry her but Nangila declined.
“He respected my decision but kept telling me he was ready for me in case I changed my mind,” she says adding that they stopped communicating in January this year.
Her step-mother was neither supportive of the idea of early marriage. She wanted her to finish high school.
In December, 2018, the step-mother took Nangila to a maternity clinic in Vihiga County where she had a normal delivery.
In January last year, Nangila went back to the same high school with her step-mother assuming responsibility over the baby.
She sat her KCSE and scored a D. Driven by the desire to acquire higher education, Nangila moved to Nairobi in February hoping to get a job to raise fees.
“I am so grateful to my step-mother for investing in my primary and secondary education,” she says.
“I don’t want to burden her again with college education expenses. All I need now is something to do so I could make money to support my child and save for my college education. I want to enrol for a diploma in engineering.”
At the age of 15, Salome* got pregnant. The minor, a resident of Pipeline Estate in Nakuru County, was then a Form Three student at a school in Machakos. For a month, she cohabited with her 19-year-old boyfriend in Nairobi after schools closed in October, 2018.
The man, who had completed high school a year earlier, lived with his well-off parents.
She had never heard about contraceptives and so she visited her lover not knowing the consequences of having sexual relations without protection.
Four months lapsed and menses were not forthcoming.
“I thought change of climate had affected my menstrual cycle,” she says, “then I noticed my tummy getting bigger by the day. I thought to myself, ‘could I be pregnant?”
It was not until her mother became suspicious, took her to hospital for check-up that they discovered she was six months pregnant.
Confirmation of her state strained her relationship with her parents. At one point, they wanted to chase her away for bringing shame to the family. She is the firstborn in a family of three.
Her mother had a change of heart and decided to support her.
“There are, however, times she seemed frustrated and would have an outburst telling me to go to the man who impregnated me,” she says.
“I cried till I got used to crying,” she adds.
When she informed her boyfriend of her condition, he cut off communication.
“The moment I broke the news, he hang up, switched off the phone and changed his line,” she says.
The pressure of feeling beaten by the misfortunes kept bottling up inside her. Five times, she tried to commit suicide.
There is hope
“I could sit on the railway line (Nakuru-Kisumu railway) hoping for the train to crash me,” she says.
“I could, however, hear a voice telling me there is hope. I finally gave up on the idea of committing suicide,” she adds.
In September 2019, she gave birth to a baby boy at Nakuru Level Five Hospital. Her father is yet to accept her, but her mother has been her greatest support.
Nina says she wants to go back to school, complete her studies and pursue a course in beauty and cosmetics.
“I really want to go back to school but I don’t have the courage to ask my parents to take me back,” she says.
“They will think I’m taking them for a ride since they are taking care of me and the baby,” she says.