Granny at 27: The young grandmas of Homa Bay

Many girls in Homa Bay County gave birth in their teens and their babies grew up to suffer the same fate; the young grandmothers are now left with the burden of caring for their grandchildren in the face of poverty.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Hundreds of girls in Homa Bay County who gave birth in their teen age, are now caring for their grandchildren after their own daughters became teen mothers too.
  • Moline Akinyi Ogallo gave birth at the age of 13, and 14 years later, her daughter, aged 14 then, got pregnant.
  • A report by the National Council for Population and Development says Homa Bay County has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Kenya.

It isabout midday when we meet Moline Akinyi Ogallo and her friend, Everlyne Atieno, in Wachara village, Homa Bay County.

They are expecting us following an earlier conversation. Akinyi, donned in a white blouse and a seemingly oversize black skirt, looks sickly and tired. She gives a feeble smile that barely reaches her ears as she stretches her hand to greet us.

When Akinyi gave birth at the age of 13, she hoped her daughter's story would be different from hers. But 14 years later, her worst fears were confirmed. Her daughter, aged 14 then, got pregnant, making Akinyi a grandmother at 27.

She says she fell pregnant as a teenager and dropped out of school to get married. The marriage then brought forth two more children, a boy and a girl. Her two daughters ended up being teen mothers, but her son seamlessly completed high school.

“My daughter, who delivered aged 14, is now married to a different person, but I am taking care of the child she gave birth to as a teenager,” starts Akinyi.

Just as she turned 32, her second daughter, her third born, also became a teen mother. Now at 33, she is a grandmother of two.

“When I got pregnant, the man responsible married me and sired two more children. For my daughters, however, I haven’t even met the men who impregnated them, and even though I ask, they never want to talk about it,” says the now widowed Akinyi with a dry and hopeless look.

To survive, she tills people’s land though she’s quick to point out that she is not consistent because she often falls sick. Her hope for her second daughter is that she goes back to school.

“I want her to have a bright future and I know education will give her that. I pray that someone comes to our aid soon and helps her go back to school,” she says, looking away to balance tears.

Atieno, has a similar story. She gave birth to her first child, a daughter, when she was 15. Thirteen years later, at 28, she became a grandmother. Her daughter became a teen mother at 13.

“I was so disappointed when my fate befell my daughter too. I had high hopes for her and that is why I enrolled her in school,” she starts with a distant look.

She notes that besides peer pressure, she is almost certain her daughter fell pregnant because they were going through a rough financial patch as a family.

“During the period that my daughter got pregnant, her father had lost his job and my business wasn’t doing well. We were, therefore, unable to provide the basic needs for our children. This might have pushed her to get involved with a man who probably provided what we could not.”

Atieno recounts how she fell pregnant the first time she engaged in sex. “It was difficult, especially because I was impregnated by a fellow student. I had to drop out of school and get married to the same man as my siblings continued with their studies. That is why I was devastated when my daughter fell pregnant at a young age,” says the mother of three.

Atieno, who is a small-scale farmer, says she just wants the best for her daughter, and has taken her to live with her aunt in Nairobi.

As we wrap up our interview with Atieno, Moline Achieng’ Oburu, yet another friend of the two, joins us. She dons a cap on her head, a green T-shirt and blue denim jeans. She could easily pass for a girl in her late 20s. But no, she is a 35-year-old grandmother. She shyly introduces herself, as her playful and energetic granddaughter sticks by my side.

Achieng' became a grandmother at 33. Having had her first child at 20, she never imagined that 13 years later, she would be holding a grandchild. She now hopes her granddaughter will not suffer the same fate as her mother, and many young girls in the county.

“The government should set up mentorship programmes for our young girls to enable them to see beyond the life Homa Bay offers. Some teen girls think having boyfriends is fashionable; unfortunately, they fall pregnant while their boyfriends continue with schooling,” says Akinyi.

The three young women represent hundreds of others in the county. Most of them are left with the burden of providing for their families and caring for their grandchildren as their teen daughters go looking for jobs. They tell Nation.Africa they do not know the men who impregnated their daughters.

“My daughter never disclosed this to me. In fact, she said they lost touch immediately she fell pregnant. I catered for all expenses for her delivery,” laments Atieno.

A report by the National Council for Population and Development says Homa Bay County has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Kenya, with over 31 per cent of adolescent girls becoming pregnant.

“It is no longer a case of teen pregnancies but a case of adolescent mothers. We have girls as young as 11 years giving birth,” says Dr Kevin Osuri, the Chief Officer for Health in Homa Bay.

Homa Bay County Health Chief Officer Kevin Osuri. He says most of the young girls deliver in the month of September, meaning they conceive in December.

Photo credit: George Odiwuor | Nation Media Group

“I remember not so long ago, I was called into the theatre to operate on an 11-year-old who was delivering twins,” he recounts.

Now, as a ripple effect, the emerging trend is that a significant number of adolescent mothers are daughters to women who were also adolescent mothers a few years ago.

“Sadly, this trend is becoming rampant in Homa Bay,” says Roseline Omollo, the County Executive Committee member for Public Health and Medical Services, attributing it to cyclic poverty.

“We have instances where parents are unable to buy their school-going daughters’ pads. As a result, some girls get these pads from men, who may, in turn, demand sexual favours.”

She recounts an impromptu visit she and the county governor, Gladys Wanga, made to Ndhiwa Sub-county Hospital recently.

“We met a 12-year-old girl accompanied by her young grandmother to deliver. The grandmother told us the girl's mother (her daughter) had died two years ago aged 27, when she was delivering. Had she been alive, she would have become a grandmother at 29.”

Records from Ndhiwa Sub-county Hospital showed that, on average, 30 teen mothers deliver in the hospital every month.

“We also have cases of pre-teen mothers coming to deliver, with those aged 14–19 dominating. Just last week, a 12-year-old girl had a normal delivery,” notes Dorine Kadu, a nurse at Ndhiwa Sub-County Hospital.

“I think cases of defilement are rampant in the county because no offender or suspect has, so far, been held accountable,” notes Ms Omollo. “It gets complicated when it is a minor impregnated by a fellow minor. Such cases are rampant too.”

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Homa Bay County Health Executive Committee Member Roselyne Omollo, during an interview with Nation.Africa  at her office in Homa Bay Town on March 8, 2023. 

She intimates that if the system allowed for community-based solutions, the cases would significantly reduce. “I would advocate the reintroduction of the community courts system. What happens when a defilement case is reported is one tedious process. In some instances, the victim’s family opts for out-of-court settlements with the perpetrators.”

Her sentiments are echoed by Dr Nicodemus Odundo, the Medical Officer for Health at Ndhiwa Sub-County Hospital.

“Sometimes holding these perpetrators accountable is difficult. We had a case where a suspect was arrested for defiling and impregnating a 13-year-old. The minor came out with all guns blazing, accusing the OCS (officer in charge of a police station) of wanting to jail her boyfriend (the suspect).

“Notably, and in what could also point to poor parenting, most of these young girls deliver in the month of September, meaning they conceive in December,” says Dr Osuri.

Ms Omollo notes that the pregnancies are first detected by teachers, and not at home by the parents. “It is the teachers who first notice that so and so suddenly sleeps a lot in class, and when investigated, it almost always turns out that the young girl is pregnant.”

She explains that Ms Wanga has a programme that has been running for a while now.

“When she was the woman representative, she called it ‘Mama County Says’, but now we are rebranding it as Governor Mentorship Camp. It involves holding mentorship programmes where about 4,000 girls assemble in one venue, and are mentored in a wide range of issues, including sexual and reproductive health.”

The county government, she says, also donates dignity packs to adolescent girls. She opines that if not arrested, the next trend bound to take root are instances where women become great-grandmothers at 35–40.

“We do not have the numbers or cases of such instances yet, but if we are having grandmothers in their 20s, then there is a possibility their own mothers are barely 40.”

Ms Omollo believes having candid conversations with the girls would remedy the situation.

“We need to start asking them the hard questions. What are their personal ambitions? Where and how do they want to end up in life? We must help our girls to rise again each time they fall.”

How county is tackling menace

On the morning of March 9, we have an appointment with Sarah Malit, the CEC for Gender, Youth, Sports Talent Development, Culture Heritage, & Social Services in Homa Bay.

Our mission is to find out what her department is doing to curb adolescent pregnancies and its ripple effect that has seen grandmothers in their 20s and 30s. We are to meet at the governor’s office. On our way there, however, we get information that Ms Malit will not be joining her colleagues for their round-table meeting. She has an urgent matter to attend to. Her office received information that a 13-year-old had been defiled and impregnated, and the suspect was on the run.

Sarah Malit, the CEC for Gender, Youth, Sports Talent Development, Culture Heritage, & Social Services in Homa Bay      County. 

Photo credit: George Odiwuor | Nation Media Group

We decide to follow her motorcade and catch up with her at the Ndhiwa Police Station, where she has come to confirm if the case has been reported. “Unfortunately, I can’t give you the interview now as I am heading for the chief’s office to find out why the suspect is yet to be arrested.”

We follow her motorcade and get a chance to speak to her after her meeting with the chief.

“The gender docket, with support of the governor, recently launched a sexual and gender-based violence policy,” she says.

“It addresses issues affecting gender and social, political and economic forms of violence against boys, girls, women and men.”

She promises to ensure the policy is fully enforced. “The issue of adolescent pregnancies and sexual and gender-based violence will be a thing of the past by the time we finish our term.”

The monthly SGBV prevalence data from the police gender desk shows defilement leads at 85.3 per cent, followed by rape at five per cent.

After interviewing Ms Malit, we head for Kabunde, where we meet with Christopher Nyamburi, who chairs Artrix-Kenya, a community-based organisation creating an enabling environment to foster adolescents' and young people's transformation.

He is accompanied by four women—Edith Akinyi, Elda Akeyo, Susan Atieno and Caroline Akoth, all of whom were adolescent moms and ended up becoming grandmothers in their 20s and early 30s. The four are beneficiaries of Artix-Kenya.

Elda Akeyo from Homa Bay County was an adolescent mum and ended up becoming a grandmother in her 20s.

Photo credit: George Odiwuor | Nation Media Group

“At Artrix-Kenya, we have an economic empowerment programme supporting 20 women in activities like soap making and baking. We also offer them reproductive health and counselling services. Above that, we distribute dignity packs to over 70 women and girls within Homa Bay,” says Mr Nyamburi.

“When my daughter became a teen mother, I was disappointed and even considered having her terminate it. But through the counselling services offered here, I overcame the situation and embraced my daughter and my grandchild. My daughter has since gone back to school… Through the soap-making skills acquired here, I am able to provide for my family and pay my daughter’s school fees,” intimates Edith.

In Kwambai village, we meet Harrison Ocholla, the project officer, Homa Bay County for WaWa (Wanawake Wavuvi) - Kenya. It was founded to end the ‘sex for fish’ practice that was common around Lake Victoria. Its aim was to empower women and girls. “We offer entrepreneurial and small-scale poultry farming skills to adolescent mothers and women. So far, 548 women have benefitted,” notes Ms Ocholla.

Hellen Staula Oromo, who runs the Lake Region Community Development (Larcod), attributes adolescent pregnancies to poor parenting, poverty, and the loss of moral values.

“Today, a young girl can easily get married and her parents have no clue about it,” she notes.

Larcod rescues adolescent girls who have been married off and, in some instances, given birth. They re-enrol the girls in school. “For many years, we took the rescued girls to Koredo Mixed Secondary School in West Karachuonyo near Kendu Bay town. It is fully certified by the Ministry of Education and doubles up as a home for young girls. At one point, only one girl in the school was not a mother,” notes Ms Oromo.

“Another approach we use is to introduce these girls to elderly women who live alone. This way, we provide the girls with a safe place to call home, while giving the elderly women some companionship. However, we only do this after counselling both parties so that they can establish a relationship.”

County Assembly Gender Committee chairman Paul Bari says the assembly is dedicated to ensuring the SGBV policy is implemented.

“I took the motion to pass the policy to the floor of the house, and, thankfully, it was passed. We will ensure it does not gather dust. As ward representatives, we are working with the executive to ensure justice for our defiled girls,” he concludes.