Alarming number of teen mums in West Pokot schools
What you need to know:
- The county is among the worst in the country as 29 per cent of its learners aged between 15 and 19 get pregnant; the national average is 18 per cent.
- The sad situation is blamed on high illiteracy levels and cultural practices.
Seated in the middle of two young girls on a desk in a Form Four class in Alale Girls Secondary School in Kacheliba Constituency, 27-year-old Gloria Chemsutut, a mother of three, is keenly listening to her mathematics teacher during a Monday morning lesson.
Chemsutut returned to school after giving birth to three children, having dropped out in 2013 following her first pregnancy.
“I got pregnant in my third term and got married to a boda boda boy. Life became difficult. I got my second child and later got the third one. My husband escaped and went to Makutano town, leaving me behind with the children. He married other women and left me suffering,” Chemsutut tells nation.africa.
She decided to go back to school in 2019. “I took my children to my grandmothers because my parents died a long time ago. I'm not ashamed to learn with small children because I made up my mind after languishing in abject poverty.”
Ms Chemsutut hails from Kaptuken village in Alale ward. She says perseverance has helped her reach Form Four. “I’m not chased for fees. I got a sponsor and my principal always gives me some shopping for basic things.”
But she is not the only teen mum in the school. Principal Pamela Oluoch says they have more than 50 teen mothers. The others have also faced the same predicament.
Across West Pokot County, schools are recording an alarming increase in the number of teen mothers. For instance, Alale Girls in North Pokot sub-county has more than 50 teen mothers.
The county is among the worst in the country as 29 per cent of its learners aged between 15 and 19 get pregnant. The national average is 18 per cent. The sad situation is blamed on high illiteracy levels and cultural practices.
Ms Oluoch pointed out that Alale Girls has 10 to 12 mothers in every class. “We have many divorcees at a tender age; this has become a burden to the school.”
She noted that many young girls got married and could not cope with life, hence returned to school. “The school is in a semi-arid area. Parents are pastoralists and move from one place to another in search of water and pasture.”
Ms Oluoch, however, added that the community is embracing education, despite the myriad challenges faced. “We started this school as a rescue centre in 2010 with six girls and now we have 208 girls.”
She explained that early pregnancies and female genital mutilation (FGM) push many girls out of school. “Enrolment has become stagnant for a long time.”
She expressed concern that parents do not pay school fees as most of them are poor. “The long spell of drought makes parents not sell animals to pay fee. Animals have died. Many parents are single, old and some sick and don’t care well for their children.”
Ms Oluoch called on parents to re-enrol their daughters in school after giving birth. “We can allow them to pay fees in kind, hence bring maize or animals. We accept barter trade as long as learners get education.”
She appealed to well-wishers interested in girls’ education to offer support. “You can’t get one sponsor to help all the girls. We need nongovernmental organisations to help.”
The head teacher noted that many learners placed in their Form One this year have yet to report and blamed rampant cases of students dropping out of school on retrogressive cultural practices like early marriages, FGM and poverty. Ms Oluoch said the Covid-19 crisis affected school retention as the number of girls dropped from 300 to 200.
County gender officer Emanuel Loigo said the Covid-19 crisis also led to an increase in teenage pregnancies. “There has been a challenge of our officers understanding their roles. The engagement for two-and-a-half years has enabled the county to have productive youths. In health facilities, we have established youth champions.”
He noted that many youth-friendly centres for family planning have been established. “Those girls, who are still young but gave birth to children, have come out to continue with their education. The policy should be addressed.”
Mr Loigo requested more support, adding that there is a need for young people to get information. “Our county has many problems, especially along the borders with Uganda, Turkana and Baringo, where schools are few and in far-flung areas.”
Reproductive health coordinator Wilson Ngareng said family planning in the county is at 25 per cent from 15 per cent three years ago.
“We must practise child spacing; reduce maternal mortality, which is 443 per 100,000 live births and 362 nationally; neonatal mortality at 52 per cent more than the national 22 per cent. We still have a lot to do as county.”
Mr Ng’areng also attributed teen pregnancies to exposure to obscene content that stimulates young people. “Many children are at home during this corona period and watching funny stuff, idleness, engagement in social media platforms, characteristics and poor parenting. Before corona, teenage pregnancies were below 30 per cent and after June climbed to 40 per cent. Many teenagers are coming for antenatal care.”
He also blamed cultural practices. “In the Pokot community, the wife belongs to the community and should give birth to many children. We also have myths and misconceptions that when women use contraceptives, they become on heat, hence need many men.”
Declares Kenya director Jefferson Mudaki expressed concern about the high unintended pregnancies are causing population explosion in the region. “Teenage pregnancy has become one of the big menaces in the county. This is a pastoral community where issues of sexuality are not discussed openly; it is a taboo.”
According to Mr Mudaki, the pregnancy problem dims girls’ hope of completing education, starting a career or becoming financially independent.
“When women and girls have access to contraception, everybody wins: fewer girls drop out of school, fewer mothers die giving birth and more young women enter the workforce. Multiply that by millions, and it becomes clear why contraception is one of the smartest investments countries can make.”
Kenya Union of Teachers West Pokot Branch executive secretary Martin Sembelo urged parents not to abandon pregnant teens.
“Pregnancy has been treated as a death sentence. We should give our daughters hope. Many universities have students who are mothers. They can leave children with their grandmothers and go back to school.”
Mr Sembelo said that despite there being a policy that allows young mothers to return to school, both areas have a high female school dropout rate because school staff lack clarity on the re-entry policy and teenage mothers, their parents, and communities are unaware of their rights to return to school.
“Pregnant girls should go back to school and learn, go give birth when time reaches and resume learning after giving birth. Teachers should not bar them from going back to school.”
He called on parents to bring school dropouts back to school.
Pokot North deputy county commissioner James Ajuang said the Ministry of Education has come up with a policy to help dropouts rejoin school.
“We want every child to access education. Parents should not condemn children and abuse them anyhow if they do wrong. We need to exploit the talents of our children, especially girls, by stopping early pregnancies and marriages.”
Mr Ajuang noted that many teenage pregnancies affect female educational attainment, as young girls who become mothers are more likely to end their formal education.
“In Kenya, teenage pregnancy is not only a reproductive health issue but also an all-round issue as it directly affects the current and future socio-economic well-being of women.”