'Despicable, insensitive': Lusaka proposal on teen pregnancy sparks outrage

Bungoma Governor Kenneth Lusaka. He says pregnant girls and teenage mothers should not be allowed back in school as a deterrent measure.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Bungoma governor said pregnant teenagers should be barred from school to make other girls careful and responsible.
  • The National Guidelines for School Re-Entry in Early Learning and Basic Education guarantees teenage mothers and pregnant girls learning continuity.
  • Tanzania and Sierra Leone previously imposed similar bans; by the time they lifted them, they had pushed thousands of girls to early marriage, mental illness and hopelessness.

Xola* was 17 and in Form Two when a motorcycle taxi operator promised to cater for her essentials.

As a child brought up in Mathare slums by a widow who earned a living from a low-income domestic job, such an offer was irresistible.

Later, he impregnated her. When she refused to abort, the man abandoned her. And she had to drop out of school. 

Xola is now raising her two-year-old daughter on the meagre earnings from domestic work. Unlike the man who went on with his business undisturbed, she had to cut short her education.

“Had my mother met my needs, I’d not have become pregnant,” she says.

“He’d give me Sh200 every weekend. That was a lot of money at the time (2019-20).”

Xola’s wish is to return to school so that she can become a dentist.

Presently, Kenya allows teenage mothers to return to school and doesn’t condone expulsion of girls on pregnancy grounds.

Girls can even deliver at school as has been the case during national primary or secondary education exams.


The National Guidelines for School Re-Entry in Early Learning and Basic Education (2020) guarantees teenage mothers and pregnant girls learning continuity.

A girl can re-enrol in a different school and the head of her current school and the sub-county director of education are to help her secure placement, the policy directs.

“In case a learner becomes pregnant more than once, she shall be allowed re-entry into a learning institution as long as she is within the mandatory schooling age,” it states.

“Learners who have attained the age of 18 years shall be advised to enrol at adult and continuing education or vocational training centres to complete their schooling.”

In spite of that, Bungoma Governor Kenneth Lusaka wants pregnant girls or teenage mothers barred from school to solve the crisis.

No study shows that his proposal has worked elsewhere. Instead, it chains the girls and their children to cycles of poverty that can only be ended if they are given a chance to finish school.

Study findings

A 2014 ChildFund Alliance study found that ending violence against children would save countries up to five per cent of the national GDP, which is otherwise lost in addressing the impacts of violence, including teenage pregnancy and the risk of HIV infection.

It states that investment in evidence-based violence prevention programmes can avert the economic costs of violence and remove a critical barrier to children's health, educational and economic development.

Tanzania and Sierra Leone have previously imposed similar bans, and by the time they lifted them, they had pushed thousands of girls to early marriage, mental illness and hopelessness.

Already, pregnant girls suffer untold stigma, family rejection and social exclusion. Banning them from school amounts to victim blaming and shaming as perpetrators go scot-free, yet Article 27 of the Constitution stands for non-discrimination of either gender. 

'Careful and responsible'

Mr Lusaka said a law barring their resumption to school would other girls “careful and responsible”. He said the proposal stemmed from statistics at St Aquinas Chesikaki Secondary School in Mt Elgon, where 54 learners were discovered pregnant.

“The current situation where teen girls can return to school even while pregnant is contributing to the normalisation of this issue,” he said at the weekend.

The governor cited poverty and lack of sanitary towels as the major causes of teenage pregnancy in Bungoma. 

Government and civil society leaders have condemned the governor’s proposal, terming it despicable, insensitive and uncalled-for.

Gender Cabinet Secretary Aisha Jumwa said policies that discriminate against girls because of pregnancy or marriage violate international and national human rights laws.

“Staying in school gives these girls a chance to get a good career, teaches them responsibility and keeps them from being isolated and things that could potentially be harmful to them and the baby,” she said in a statement.

The CS reminded the governor of Kenya’s re-entry policy that allows school dropouts to complete their education, regardless of the reasons that pushed them out.

“The policy is clear that learners who drop out of school because of pregnancy shall be re-admitted unconditionally to the same class they were before they left school to go and deliver.

"In case a learner becomes pregnant more than once, the policy says she shall be allowed re-entry into a learning institution as long as she is within the mandatory school age,” the CS added.

On period poverty being one of the reasons behind the rampant teenage pregnancy in Bungoma, Ms Jumwa said the government is implementing the free sanitary towel programme for schools.

“The governor's admission of these challenges should have prompted him to implement sustainable support systems, such as providing sanitary pads to girls in his county and establishing mechanisms to identify, support, and empower girls from underprivileged backgrounds,” she emphasised.


Michael Wasonga, executive director of The Cradle, also faulted the governor. Mr Wasonga, in a statement, termed his remarks disheartening, more so coming from a leader of his stature, one expected to be a duty bearer and a change maker.

“Suggesting to deny the girls, who find themselves in challenging family situations, access to education is a step backwards. Teenage pregnancy is a societal issue that requires a multisectoral approach towards finding a lasting solution, not knee-jerk roadside suggestions,” he said

Mr Wasonga said failure by policymakers to prioritise sex education is contributing to the rise in cases of schoolgirls getting pregnant.

“While the governor cites poverty and lack of sanitary towels as the causes of teenage pregnancy, he proposes keeping the girls away from school, instead of collaborating with stakeholders to find a solution.

He dismissed Mr Lusaka’s proposal as a one-sided radical policy that is unwise and reckless.

According to the latest statistics shared by the Bungoma county government, 106,982 girls aged 10–19 were pregnant between January 2016 and August last year. The county has 19 per cent prevalence, exceeding the national prevalence of 15 per cent.

Last year from January to August, 299 teenage pregnancies were recorded among girls aged 10–14, with 8,375 aged 15–19 years getting pregnant over the same period.

Kanduyi led with 1,218 cases, followed by Webuye West at 1,091, Tongaren (1,029), Bumula (987), Kabuchai (871), Kimilili (835), Sirisia (784), Chaptais (657), Webuye East (610) and Mt Elgon (574). In 2022, the county recorded 12,217 teenage pregnancies.

The Kenya Demographic and Health Survey shows that teenage pregnancy rates declined to 15 per cent in 2022, from 18 per cent in 2014.

Poverty and a lack of education were associated with higher rates of adolescent pregnancy as about four in 10 women aged 15–19 years with no education have been pregnant, compared to only 5.0 per cent of women who have more than secondary education.

Adolescent pregnancies are also more likely to occur among poor communities, as 21 per cent of those aged 15–19 in the lowest wealth quantile reported to have been pregnant, compared to 8.0 per cent in the highest wealth quantile.

The highest rates of teen pregnancy were recorded in the counties of Samburu at 50 per cent, West Pokot (36 per cent), Marsabit (29 per cent), and Narok (28 per cent). Nyeri and Nyandarua counties reported the lowest rates at 5.0 per cent each.

Friendly environment

The country has already made progress in creating an environment conducive to teen mothers’ education. Some private schools have been established for them, some even accommodating them with their children.

Greenland Girls School in Kajiado County, for instance, has a model school for teen mothers. In August last year, a Ugandan delegation of women parliamentarians visited on a benchmarking mission.

“It's a great honour for us," Purity Gikunda, the school's co-director, told Nation.Africa then.

“It shows how our programme of enrolling teenage mothers back in school has been impactful not only here in Kenya but also in the neighbouring countries. Having seen our story in the media and deciding to come to Kenya to benchmark shows how unique and important the programme is.”

Nation.Africa sought Mr Lusaka’s comment on why he thinks his proposal is the best solution to addressing teenage pregnancy, but by the time this article was published, he had not responded to our text messages and neither had he returned our calls.

*Name changed to protect the identity of the girl.