In the last three months parents in Kenya are grappling with teenage pregnancies with some counties reporting as high as 40% of such cases.
Prevalence of early childbearing is most elevated in counties within Nyanza region at 27% (KDHS, 2018) followed by Rift Valley 24% and Coast 23%; it is lowest in Central 13% and North Eastern region 15%.
According to Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2018, Narok and Homabay Counties have the highest rate of early childbearing which stands at 40% and 33.3% respectively, followed by West Pokot at 29% and Tana River at 28%.
While speaking to a few friends in the neighbourhood popularly called “mtaa,” some of the prominent issues arising as causes for this are poverty, peer pressure or influence, lust, religious beliefs, rape and sexual abuse. Other causes are alcoholism and drug abuse, lack of knowledge, environmental influence, and pornography.
Most of us in the gathering were shocked when Lenah (not her real name) shared that where she comes from the area MCA, MP, and other political leaders are awarding teenage girls for delivering while in school.
“As such, every teenage girl wants to get a baby to win the award,” she remarked sadly.
Research by African Population and Health Research Center in 2014 indicated that at least 40% of these teenage pregnancies are not planned and therefore, at least 14% of these end up in abortions. Even with such high numbers of teen pregnancies very little is being done to curb the daily rise.
The political classes, especially at the county level, seem silent and even some counting them as “Votes.” Some of these children risk death at an early age.
Another research by Alan Guttmacher Institute indicates that early childbearing may be life-threatening to both the mother and the child. Mothers younger than 17 years face an increased risk of maternal mortality because their bodies are not yet mature enough to bear children. These young women may not recognize the symptoms of pregnancy or may not wish to acknowledge a conception, delaying prenatal care and endangering the health of the child and mother.
I call upon the public, government stakeholders and every parent or caregiver to take measures. It is a team’s effort if we are to win this fight against teenage pregnancies.
Sex education to both the parent and the teens should be readily available in our public institutions. I would encourage parents to watch televisions with their children as these are some of the best moments to discuss issues related to sex and sexual abuse.
I call upon the political class in this nation to rise to the occasion. As a nation, we need strict laws and serious juries to implement them because most of the rape and molestation victims die prematurely or the victims are silenced for good. It is unfortunate and disappointing.
It is regrettable that the men involved with these teenage girls walk scotfree while the constitution is very clear on such issues. As long as the child is below 18 years, they have no mandate of entering into any written or verbal agreement. Additionally, the parents of these children continue to protect these men and do not report to the authorities. As a nation, it is time to act. You and I can’t afford to keep silent anymore!