What you need to know:
- Matters of adolescents’ sexuality, transition and reproductive health have been a thorny issue.
- One in every four girls in Kenya aged between 10 and 19 is either pregnant or has given birth to a first child.
The government has maintained that giving contraceptives to minors is an illegality punishable by a jail term of up to 20 years.
Dr Stephen Kaliti, the head of reproductive and maternal health at the Health ministry, said such a move is against the Children Act and is like giving a minor a licence to “drive” their body the way they want without considering the consequences.
Speaking on Thursday in Nairobi during the national dissemination of family planning data phase three results, Dr Kaliti said children should be allowed to be children and not young adults who can consent to sex.
Matters of adolescents’ sexuality, transition and reproductive health have been a thorny issue, with some county reproductive health coordinators calling for adolescents to be given contraceptives to curb the high number of teenage pregnancies.
One in every four girls in Kenya aged between 10 and 19 is either pregnant or has given birth to a first child, according to the National Council for Population and Development report 2021.
However, Dr Kaliti said he was aware that minors are having sex, though it cannot be business as usual, challenging stakeholders to focus on discussing sex with the minors and not the consequences of sex.
“We cannot normalise illegality because it is happening... Children are supposed to be in school and protected until they are able to handle matters of social competency. Decisions on sexuality and reproduction require some of the highest competencies one can ever need,” he said.
He said many stakeholders discuss more the consequences and outcomes of sex that includes early pregnancy, HIV, STIs and abortion while shying away from the real subject, which is sex. “Let’s face the reality and talk to our children and this begins with the parents back at home.”
Giving an example, Dr Kaliti said only Kenyans aged 18 and above are allowed to have a driving licence because they can make decisions on their safety.
“Here we are talking about allowing our small girls to have the licence to drive their body, which is more important than even a car. We cannot allow this,” he emphasised during a heated debate on whether adolescents should be given contraceptives.
He said that when it comes to matters of sexuality and reproductive health, the government policy in place advocates rehabilitating those who are sexually active and not giving the contraceptive. For those above 18, the policy direction is to facilitate them to enjoy their rights, which, however, are not absolute.
“We must recognise and protect the rights of the children but understand the space under which they operate. Instead of causing them more harm, help them to transition,” he said.
Dr Kaliti said any healthcare worker who will administer a contraceptive without the consent of the parent will have violated the law and risk being jailed. It is in the policy. Parents’ consent is only allowed in special cases.
“If, for example, a healthcare worker gives an implant to a minor without the consent of the parent and she develops complications then bleeds to death (God forbid), you will be locked for life,” he said.
“The first question you will be asked is whether the parent gave consent, if the answer is No, then, the healthcare worker acted beyond your powers.”
The National Reproductive Health policy 2020/30 does not allow any healthcare worker to give contraceptives to minors, unless they are accompanied by a parent or a guardian.