What you need to know:
- Rights organisations and gender activists are now calling for a robust strategy to tame this menace, which spells doom for girls if not tamed.
- MYWO chairperson Rahab Muiu, in an interview with Nation.Africa, has condemned the crisis and called for immediate interventions.
A recent revelation by the government that Kenya ranks third worldwide in teenage pregnancies has caused an uproar from both state and non-state actors who are now calling for immediate action.
According to recent data released by the Ministry of Health, one in five adolescents aged 15–19 are already mothers or pregnant with their first child.
Rights organisations and gender activists are now calling for a robust strategy to tame this menace, which spells doom for girls if not tamed.
Maendeleo ya Wanawake Organisation (Mywo) chairperson Rahab Muiu, in an interview with Nation.Africa, has condemned the crisis and called for immediate interventions.
“It is morally wrong to be talking about a 10-year-old being a mother. We need to go back to our moral values to avoid such things happening to our girls,” she said.
She challenged parents and grandparents to rise up to the occasion and talk to their children and grandchildren on the importance of moral values.
“Uncles, aunties and the church also need to do what they are supposed to do, talking to these young girls and mentoring them. The church should also guide the young parents to inculcate in them proper parenting values, which is lacking in some.”
Ms Muiu called on women leaders to rise up and spearhead the fight against teenage pregnancy. She noted the need to have comprehensive sex education in schools to emphasise, among other things, the benefits of abstinence until learners are through with their studies.
“We need to go back to our schools and spread the message of abstinence to these young girls and boys. They must be told what they must hear if we want to fight this menace.”
To deal with the rising cases, the Ministry of Health early this month launched a national campaign, dubbed ‘End the Triple Threat in Adolescents’, to reduce the risk of HIV infection, pregnancies and sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) that have persistently undermined girls’ health, education and economic empowerment.
Rampant unprotected sex
Speaking during a sensitisation meeting for community gatekeepers in Nairobi recently, Health Principal Secretary Susan Mochache said teenage pregnancies point to rampant unprotected sex.
Also read: Kenya rates poorly in teen pregnancy war
She revealed that about 21 per cent–totalling 317,644–of all pregnancies in 2021 were among adolescents aged 10–19. “In Kenya, the painful truth is that one out of every three mothers attending an antenatal clinic is an adolescent aged 10–19. We also know that one in three of our adolescent and young girls under the age of 18 have experienced some form of violence, including sexual and gender-based violence.”
PS Mochache noted that 56 per cent of all teenage pregnancies in 2021, totalling 20,803, were in nine counties–Nairobi, Kajiado, Homa Bay, Meru, Kericho, Narok, Kisii, Mandera and Bomet. She said the strategy to contain ills against girls and women will include having “a prevention lens that involves individuals, families and communities”.
The onset of Covid-19 in the country in March 2020 saw a sharp rise in teenage pregnancies and GBV against girls and women as schools remained closed in a bid to contain the disease.
President Uhuru Kenyatta in July 2020 directed the National Crime Research Centre (NCRC) to probe the high cases of teenage pregnancies and GBV as the country continued to battle with the pandemic.
The NCRC, in a report released last year titled Protecting the Family in the Time of Covid-19 Pandemic: Addressing the Escalating Cases of Gender-based Violence, Girl Child Disempowerment and Violation of Children Rights in Kenya, said girls suffered the most from defilement, attempted defilement, child marriage, teenage pregnancy and female genital mutilation.
The report also indicated an increase in girls procuring abortions, engaging in drug abuse, and being neglected and sexually violated by family members and relatives, and confined unlawfully.
Also read: Address the spike in teen pregnancies
Besides teenage pregnancy, new data released recently by the government also shows that HIV/Aids infection among the adolescent is extremely high. Statistics by the Ministry of Health released this month show that, in the last one year, on average, 98 new HIV cases were recorded every week among 10–19-year-olds.
Figures by the ministry and the National Aids Control Council (Nacc) show rising cases of HIV and adolescent pregnancies. The ministry says HIV/Aids remains a major public health threat for adolescents and young people. In 2017, Kenya recorded close to 67,000 adolescent pregnancies out of over 317,000 pregnancies. Most of the pregnancies were girls aged 10–19.
“We deliver about 12,000 women every month and out of this, 10 per cent are mothers between 10 and 19... in the last one year, we have seen almost 6,000 teen pregnancies in Nairobi and 50 per cent of them end up being HIV positive,” said Dr Ouma Oluga, the chief officer in charge of Health in Nairobi County.
Nine counties – Nairobi, Kajiado, Homabay, Meru, Kericho, Narok, Kisii, Mandera and Bomet – contributed 56 per cent of all pregnancies among adolescents aged 10–14.
As the country makes some strides in tackling HIV/Aids as a public health threat by 2030, Kenya still faces a ticking time bomb of the large number of women of child-bearing age getting infected. Adolescents aged 10–19 account for 53 per cent of all SGBV cases as of 2021. Young people aged 15–29 contribute 61 per cent of new HIV cases.
Thirteen counties, among them Kisumu, Kisii, Narok, Nandi, Laikipia and Tana River, accounted for 72 per cent of all new cases. In 2021, Dagoretti North sub-county contributed 15 per cent of all new HIV cases of over 430 adolescents aged 10–19 in Nairobi.
Under-fives accounted for over 78,000 of the infected population, with vulnerability of adolescent girls and young women attributed to poverty and lack of education and work opportunities. More than 1.4 million Kenyans were living with HIV as of 2021.