What you need to know:
- Most teen pregnancies are from poor and low-income households. These girls often lack knowledge of their rights when faced with sexual abuse.
- The Constitution protects children’s rights, interests and well-being—safeguarding them from abuse, neglect, harmful cultural practices and all forms of violence.
Early this year, I met a young girl, Hawi*. She was looking for work, any work. The 16-year-old lived in Kiambio slums, Nairobi, with her mother and six siblings. She had an 11-month-old baby.
I engaged Hawi further. Two years ago, at the peak of Covid-19, she started selling groundnuts on the roadside to support her mother. There, she met a 38-year-old man who offered to take care of her and help her with school supplies. She ended up pregnant.
Most teen pregnancies are from poor and low-income households. These girls often lack knowledge of their rights when faced with sexual abuse. The Constitution protects children’s rights, interests and well-being—safeguarding them from abuse, neglect, harmful cultural practices and all forms of violence.
Hawi needed money. She was in Standard Eight. Her school didn’t charge fees; however, there were compulsory books she needed to buy but could not afford. She loved school, but life was very tough.
Hawi’s case is not unique. Teen pregnancies have been here for decades. Many of the girls are abused by teachers or relatives. Poverty drives some into transactional relationships, like in Hawi’s case.
But how did we get to a place where the Health ministry says it handled 45,724 cases of pregnant adolescents aged 10 to 19 between January and February this year?
Retired President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2020 directed the National Crime Research Centre to investigate high teenage pregnancy and GBV cases as the country battled Covid-19. He also ordered chiefs to ensure culprits were brought to book. Were President Kenyatta’s orders enforced? How did we get to a place where accountability seems to be the last thing we demand?
The reported numbers are heart-wrenching; these are real people with lives that are left devastated. We should say enough is enough, instead of waiting for the government or NGOs to act. If we only tweet our outrage and not demand justice, we are killing our daughters’ souls and stunting their future.
To tame the problem, relevant authorities should reduce poverty and economic inequality. Studies confirm the causality between poverty and inequality, and teenage pregnancy. We must also fix our broken justice system, starting at home where sexual abuse often happens.
Parents should also educate their children to embrace what is right and the implications of waywardness. Religious institutions also have a role of guiding young people into responsible adulthood.
Parents and guardians who shield perpetrators must be held accountable for their complicity. Once pregnant, girls miss school. The continued absence means the school is among the first to know if a child is pregnant. Teachers and education officials who fail to report a case should stand accused. This is the starting point of protecting the girl.
Teenage mothers need to return to school. Educated girls become educated women, who effectively compete and have opportunities to play a key role in developing society. Most importantly, culprits must face the music.
As we mark International Day of the Girl Child next Tuesday, we have a collective responsibility to amplify girls’ rights. We must demand accountability from those entrusted with protecting these rights.
Meanwhile, a well-wisher took Hawi in, and the young mother is back to school.
*Name changed to protect the minor.