Why adolescence is Tana River girls’ worst nightmare

A woman monitors as her daughter digs a hole for her menses in the bushes in Makutano village, Tana River County. Most girls here cannot afford sanitary towels. Some sit on holes during their menses while others use rags.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • With poverty tagging with most of Tana River families, girls here brace themselves for the harsh reality, to pay the price or bear the shame.
  • The tales of early marriage, teen pregnancies and HIV infections get their genesis at the adolescence stage.
  • Even though the government provides sanitary towels in school, they are not enough to last them a month, hence they suffer in silence.

Puberty is turning out to be the scariest stage for the girl child in Tana River County.

The experiences of their mates, colleagues and friends that have stepped into the age, stare them wildly in the face.

With poverty tagging with most of the families, girls here brace themselves for the harsh reality, to pay the price or bear the shame.

At the sight of their first menstrual cycle, worry kicks in coupled with trauma. How they will survive through this in their youthful dependent lives, is the monster quagmire that torments them.

The tales of early marriage, teen pregnancies and HIV infections get their genesis at this stage.

Mwanaisha Kheir (not her real name) is a mother of two living in Bondeni village. She is still determined to complete her primary school education and even soar further, but poverty will not give way.

"I got my first child with a man from this village, he is my cousin. I had confided in him about my frustrations with getting sanitary towels and he promised to help," she recounts.

The help did not come for free as she had hoped. She sold her dignity to earn it, a trade that turned out to mess up her life.

Her mother was struggling with other siblings, hence did not pay much attention to her as she was perceived as an adult.

Class hours

“When I first told my mother about my plight, she gave me her old 'lesos' and taught me how to fold them for use during my menses. She made it clear that there was no money to buy sanitary towels,” she narrates.

However, the cloth inconvenienced her. She had to miss at least five hours of class hiding behind the school toilet as she waited for the rags to dry up, lest they were stolen.

It was a crisis her peers went through too and still do.

Even though the government provided sanitary towels in school, they were not enough to last her a month, hence they suffered in silence.

“We get three packets of sanitary towels yet some of us experience a heavy flow that can last for eight days and sometimes 12 days. It requires at least six pads a day, "she says.

When the cousin realized she was pregnant, he abandoned her and left her to her misery.

Her mother, on the other hand, was not shocked. She told her to carry the burden, and experience its frustrations in order to learn from it.


While her classmates proceeded to secondary school, she had to stay out of school for one year, struggling to raise her child.

Unfortunately, she got pregnant again a year later. This time, the man responsible agreed to support her through the journey.

"He is the one who insisted on me going back to school and finishing primary school. He has promised to support me through high school if I score good marks, "she notes.

Aisha Maneno (not her real name), on the other hand, has a similar story. She is a mother of one, impregnated by her uncle, who would later reject her.

"He is the brother to my late father. He accused me of lying about him and even brought some boys to claim they were dating me, to appear like I did not know the father of my child, which is untrue," she recounts.

Her mother, however, has been supportive with raising the baby as she continues with her education.

She will be sitting her Grade Eight exams in the year, and hopes to perform well despite the trauma the incident caused her.

According to her mother, she attempted killing her baby twice, hence cannot be trusted with it.

Bitter adults

"In one incident, I found her suffocating the baby, I came into the house just in time. Had I stayed a minute longer, the child would have died," she narrates.

The plight of girls in school amid period poverty is a tale that stirs bitter emotions.

According to Milcah Yuda, a gender rights activist, girls are traumatized and need counselling, lest they turn out to be bitter adults in life.

"I try counselling them and what I hear from is very sad, their experiences need not just sanitary pads, but robust counselling exercises across all schools in the county," she says.

Ms Yuda notes that without the counselling, we shall end up with a generation of women with mental illness hence, a failed society.

More than 300 child pregnancies are recorded in Tana River County every year according to a report by the Ministry of Health.