Risk of increased teen pregnancies with Covid-19
The number of Covid-19 patients continue to rise in Kenya. Its outbreak in the country now worsens teenagers' vulnerabilities to not just early pregnancies and marriages, but also contracting the disease.
So far, 172 individuals have been infected. The Ministry of Health further projects tough times ahead, should Kenyans fail to take utmost precautions to prevent new infections.
Ms Pascalia Makonjo, gender advisor at Busia County is worried that many teenagers who are out of school following closure of learning institutions to control spread of the disease, would fail to complete studies due to unplanned pregnancies consequent to early marriages.
"What I have been seeing on the roadsides while heading home to beat the curfew time is really disturbing me," she says on emerging threats of Covid-19 on sexual and reproductive health (SRH) of teenage girls.
"Teenage girls and boys are engaging in sexual matters, which I know is going to affect them after this coronavirus (pandemic) is over. We are going to have a lot of teenage pregnancies and early marriages after this," she emphasises.
Teenage pregnancy is particularly a stubborn problem yet to record a downward trend in the past decade.
Since 2008 up to last year, the prevalence rate of teenage pregnancies in the country has stuck at 18 per cent according to government data.
Furthermore, the circumstances under which these girls are predisposed to this social problem remains constant.
Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2008-09 and National Council on Population and Development survey findings covering 2016-2019 draw similar conclusion on underlying factor. That teens from poorer households are more likely to start off childbearing earlier than those from wealthier households.
Ms Makonjo says parental responsibility cannot be relegated thus, mothers and fathers ought to monitor and discipline their teenage boys and girls in this critical period of Covid-19.
"Are parents talking with them about the dangers of failing to observe the social distancing rule? Do they really know about Covid-19 or they are taking it for a joke?" she poses.
Parents must take the responsibility of monitoring and disciplining their children.
Depressing economic times for the already impoverished families in the slums would push teenage girls into sex, says Ms Editar Ochieng, founder of Kibera based Feminist Centre, working with young mothers of 15 to 31 years.
"They are predisposed to it (sex) right now because this pandemic has pushed them to the limits," she says.
"Are the parents supposed to struggle to find food for them or buy the girls sanitary towels? What happens if there is no shilling now that business is bad? It is really tough for the girls," she adds.
Sadly, their vulnerability to engage in sex for economic benefit increases their risks of being infected with the highly contagious coronavirus, which can be passed on through respiratory droplets from nose or mouth of an infected person.
Ms Banu Khan, Regional Gender and Inclusion specialist at Plan International says: “When schools are closed and girls and young women are shut up at home, they face greater risks of exploitation and gender-based violence."
She notes that disease outbreaks and measures taken to control them increase risks of violence, abuse or neglect as protection systems break down.
"Carers become ill and the economic impacts prompt negative coping strategies such as survival sex and child marriage,” she says.
Last month, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) launched a global response appeal for US$ 67.5 million to respond to sexual and reproductive health needs of women and girls for successive two months, as countries shift focus to containing coronavirus.
With the funding, UNFPA would prioritise supporting countries with weak public health and social support systems.
The financial boost would enable the countries effectively avail gender-based violence (GBV) and SRH services, especially for pregnant women, young people and vulnerable people impacted by the pandemic.
It would also support risk communication and community engagement strategies involving dissemination of risk reduction messages and effecting related actions which would respond to needs of quarantined women and girls.
In addition the funds would also provide GBV prevention and response services including GBV survivor services such as temporary shelter, safe housing, and financial support.