Motherhood in childhood: The bane of poor families

Irresponsible Boda boda riders on the spot for impregnating underage girls with abandon and leaving the teenage mums to their own devices.


What you need to know:

  • A boda boda operator approached her at the shop and, in speaking to her, asked how he could help.
  • Tears well in her eyes as she talks about the outcome of that innocent inquiry.
  • “I opened up to him about my predicament and he told me not to worry as he was going to help me,” she said.
  • He was 20 years older than her.

Maria Kombo was just trying to understand how her body was growing breasts or that she would get menstruation. But now, at 13, she is five months pregnant and the new body changes are beyond what she thought she would be up to in her early teens.

Impregnated by a motorcycle taxi operator, commonly known as boda boda, Maria’s teenage pregnancy adds to the growing number of similar ones in the country. In fact, her name joins 223 others at the Kilifi Gender-Based Violence Recovery Centre (GBVRC), where she was treated and attended to.

Maria [names changed to protect the innocence and identity of the girls] is too scared to talk to Healthy Nation; actually, she is shy. She has a leso wrapper tied around her bust and another colourful one on her waist, which did little to hide her bulging belly.

Next to Maria is her mother Subira Kombo, who struggles with the emotions chocking her. She looks at her daughter and says, in a low voice: “She informed me that a man she met riding a boda boda in the evening from school is the one who impregnated her.”


But her tale is not new in this community. There are countless other tales of boda boda operators impregnating young girls, operators who have been known to contribute to (mostly fatal) road accidents and now teenage pregnancies.

She had just joined school, for only a month, and in Standard Three — too old for her class — but now, it seems, too soon for motherhood. Poverty had locked her out of school and, when money was raised that saw her join school, she became pregnant.

“He gave her food and rides for several occasions”, Subira said bitterly.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) and Society for International Development (SID) named Kilifi as one of five counties with the worst income inequality (measured as a ratio of the top to the bottom decile) in Coast region. These are: Lamu, Tana River, Kwale and Kilifi.

Inequality and poverty contribute to high illiteracy levels among females in the Coast as nearly 16.3 per cent cannot read and write, according to the 2014 Kenya Demographic Health Survey (KDHS).

A negligible 3.8 per cent have been educated beyond secondary school but the fertility rate is 5.1. The median age that women in Kilifi had had a live birth is 18.8 years. To others, it is earlier, as was the case with Maria.

Maria’s mother is a widow with eight children who all opted to marry at a tender age into financially unstable unions. She struggles to feed her two youngest children with a meal each day, bought with the little money she earns from selling firewood and doing menial jobs at people’s farms.


And there is another mouth to feed on the way because the boda boda operator responsible for the pregnancy denied ever knowing her daughter.

This is a concern to social worker Raymond Katana, who is based at Kilifi County Hospital, where most of the babies of these girls are delivered.

The girls always implicate motorcycle riders and other men for being responsible, and they give in “for money or food”, he says.

Mr Katana said: “In a month alone, we record an average of 30 cases of gender violence, mostly teenage pregnancies between ages 12 and 16.”

He mentioned defilement, sodomy and rape as the other reasons for teens visiting the centre.

Government volunteer children’s officer Riziki Abdalla says of seven underage pregnancies reported in a school three are caused by motorcycle riders.

Other people who impregnate young girls are fathers in incestous relationships, uncles, cousins and neighbours.

At this very rescue centre where Maria is is 16-year-old Amina Bakari from Mikanjuni Village in Kilifi. She has her baby strapped on her back.

A child herself, she is struggling to raise her baby with an education no greater than her primary school certificate.

In December 2012, she received her KCPE results and was eagerly waiting to join Form One. She scored 252 marks out of a possible 500 at Shimo la Tewa Primary School.

Her step-father, who works at a hotel, declined to pay her secondary school fees and told her to look for her biological father — a man she had never known.

But he went ahead and packed Amina’s clothes and threw her out of the house.

When her mother tried to intervene, she was threatened with following her daughter out. Instead, she advised Amina to go and live with her cousin, a vegetable seller at the local market.

“Survival was difficult at my cousin’s place”, Amina recalled. “Sometimes we would sleep hungry.”

A boda boda operator approached her at the shop and, in speaking to her, asked how he could help.

Tears well in her eyes as she talks about the outcome of that innocent inquiry.

“I opened up to him about my predicament and he told me not to worry as he was going to help me,” she said.

He was 20 years older than her.

The boda boda operator brought them corn flour, rice, vegetables, sanitary towels, body oil and other necessities, which was welcome by the two as it made life bearable.

He said he would marry her. Soon after, in gratitude, Amina gave in to his sexual advances and she became pregnant.

He was excited about the pregnancy at first but changed when she delivered a baby.

“After I gave birth, I did not have food and would walk around with the baby, begging from neighbours,” said Amina. “I did that for two weeks.

“Good Samaritans would help, and when morning came I would repeat the process.”

Tired of begging, she resolved to do menial jobs such as carrying bricks and mixing sand at construction sites to sustain her and the baby, who is now two years old.

“Everyday, at the break of dawn, I begin knocking doors seeking casual work such as washing clothes, housekeeping and casual labour at construction sites for a small fee,” Amina narrated. “I did this and soon got a place of my own, and that is how I have managed to support my baby.”

She now lives with her baby in a one-roomed house, for which she pays a rent of Sh600 per month. And even though she is not stable, Amina is glad she is independent. Occasionally, she gets support from her mother, who traced her after giving birth.

There is a longing in her voice about her wish to continue her education.

“I would be in Form Three right now, but here I am” Amina lamented. “I’m still not sure of my future.”


Then there is an oxymoronic twist: The clamour to get an education — one of the effective tools out of poverty which leads to these pregnancies — places these girls right in the middle of sex predators.

Mary Fondo, who teaches at Mtomondoni Primary School, told Healthy Nation: “Many children in this county trek long distances to reach schools.

“It is on their way to school that they meet these riders, who offer them ‘lifts’ to and from school as well as food that satisfies their hunger pangs. Later on, they engage them in sex with empty promises and assurances.”

She quipped: “When they return home in the evening, there is still no food. How else would they survive?”

According to Pwani University lecturer Gabriel Katana, the government needs to address teenage pregnancy and poverty.

In fact, Prof Katana, who is also the chairman of Kilifi County Education Board, recommends enhanced school feeding programmes as a way of reducing hunger affecting children from low-income families.

“About 70 per cent of the population in Kilifi lives below poverty line,” Prof Katana told Healthy Nation. “The boda boda industry is run by people who are considered financially able, even though some of them are school dropouts.”

Ms Fondo says there are pupils from poor single-parent families or are raised by grandparents who can barely work to sustain their own and grandchildren’s needs.

Justice is far from their reach.

“Our efforts to address the pregnancies and defilement through the Children’s Office are hindered by lack of evidence, as well as parents who accept to be bribed by the paedophiles,” Ms Fondo said after citing examples of the cases she has dealt with.

Such parents, she noted, agree with the offenders not to pursue the cases in exchange for cows and money while others push the girls to engage in sex tourism and early marriages to support the family.

Some mothers, she said, especially those who sell mnazi (traditional brew), push their underage daughters into seductively serving customers at the mnazi dens without a care as to who touches them inappropriately.

When the girls protest sexual harassment, their own mothers scold them.

Ms Halima Ali, who works for the German Foundation for World Population (DSW) as the Young Adolescents Project (YAP) coordinator, says they have encountered many schoolgirls who have fallen victim to teenage pregnancies in exchange for food and other basic necessities.

“A primary school girl once told us she was given a Sh10 chapati with an egg omellette in exchange for sex and, since she was hungry and had not had any meal at home, she accepted, unaware of the consequences,” Ms Ali narrated.


Like most communities in Kenya, Ms Ali noted that the parents would not hear of “age-appropriate sex education”, where the teens can be taught about safe sex.

Sadly, programmes like DSW’s are only in nine counties. There are 152 schools in the entire county.

The errant men have hogged the blame alright.

Mtwapa Boda Boda Association member Michael Masha agreed that there are riders who engage in sexual activities with schoolgirls but pointed out that it is a common habit among uncouth and unmarried motorcyclists.

He said that they are trying to tame the habit through talking with riders but it remained a challenge, owing to the large number of riders, vastness of the county and difficulty in controlling human behaviour.

As the 16 days of Activism Against Gender-Based-Violence campaign ended on December 10, Maria’s story is hardly newsworthy or rare but equally tragic.