What you need to know:
- Hope* refused to be the second wife of the man who impregnated her - a boda boda rider in his 30s.
- She says she thought her world was coming to an end when she got the news of her pregnancy.
One day in February this year, Hope* woke up feeling nauseous and lightheaded.
A man in his 30s had three months earlier engaged the 17-year-old in unprotected sex. She was in Class Eight at the time. While Hope knew from school lessons that intimate relations can result in pregnancy, besides missing periods, she wasn't aware of other symptoms of pregnancy.
“I thought I was feeling so because of the hot weather,” says the girl from Ndavaya in Kwale County.
This went on for three days until her mother got concerned and she took her to a nearby public health centre for treatment. After testing, the nurse at the facility confirmed to her that she was pregnant.
“I went numb,” she says. “For a moment, I felt like the world had come to an end. My mother calmly looked away. As we returned home, she never said a word to me. I didn't know what she was thinking. She avoided speaking with me until the following day. I know she was annoyed with me but I didn't know what to do.”
She cried the whole night and the following day she informed the man who impregnated her. He didn't deny the pregnancy but informed her that he was already married with children, Hope says. He would support her through the pregnancy and with raising the child only if she accepted to be his second wife, a proposal that Hope declined.
Her refusal was the end of communication with the man, a boda boda rider. Hope says the reaction of her mother and the father of her child threw her into constant fear and sadness. She transitioned from an extrovert to an introvert, crying all the time and unable to sleep.
“But I wanted to have my child. I didn't know how I'd raise it. All I knew was that I'd have the child and somehow all would work out for us.”
After a week, Hope’s mother came to terms with her pregnancy. Hope is the second-born in a family of her seven. She would accompany her to Ndavaya Health Centre for antenatal clinics where they would be both counselled.
“The counsellor helped me and my mother understand that constant sadness would affect me and my child. He helped me see the positive side of life,” she says.
“He informed me that I had an option of giving up my child for adoption, something I didn't want to hear at all. With the counselling, my mother changed her perception of my situation and started encouraging me to return to school after delivery. I had given up on school.”
I met Hope a week before the August reopening of schools when her son was just two-week-old and she was excited to return to her former primary school. Hope wants to become a pediatrician.
“I’m okay now. I’m happy and I don’t cry anymore; I love my son to bits,” she says.
Returning to school
Her mother says she is ready to take care of her grandson. Her only worry is how she would pay her high school fees as she earns less than Sh1,000 a month from menial jobs.
John Mutoro, a counsellor at Ndavaya Health Centre, says pregnant adolescents often live in high degree of emotional pain, distress and torment aggravated by family rejection and social stigma.
“In all the cases I have handled, where the girls get better quickly, you'll find the parents are very supportive,” he says.
“And they are able to go back to school because their mental status is stable.”
Counselling of adolescents during and after pregnancy is an intervention that local organisations are popularising to ensure the girls take full advantage of the government's return-to-school policy.
Syriana Mwandacha, a project officer at Sauti ya Wanawake, says with the high prevalence of teenage pregnancies in Kwale County, counselling becomes a primary need to help the girls maintain a healthy mental status critical to the continuation of their studies.
“The girls suffer a lot and they feel helpless. We have to help them come out strong and empowered to face the future,” she says.
End sexual violence programme officer Jean Paul Murunga at Equality Now, however, says communities ought to be sensitised enough to protect girls from sexual exploitation, an outcome that would eliminate the adolescents' exposure to mental anguish in the first place.
*Name changed to protect her from mental harm.