Teenage pregnancies in Kenya continue to remain an issue cutting across the economic, social and political spectrum majorly due to certain factors that affect the common mwananchi.
Statistics from AFIDEP, an organisation that provides research and evidence for African-driven development, highlight that the lifetime cost of teenage pregnancy in Kenya stands at 17% of the annual GDP. These teenage pregnancies of adolescents from ages 15-19 make 14% of all births in Kenya. 63% of these pregnancies are unintended while 35% end up in abortion. As much as the narrative is that parents are failing to give children the sex talk contributing to this predicament, the parent stands as one voice in a schizophrenic society. On the other hand sex education alone, is just scratching the tip of the iceberg and it leaves out other key factors like economic issues, sexual education and even policies.
Without any more delay, let’s look at the issues surrounding the increasing rates of teenage pregnancies in Kenya.
Lack of Sexuality Education
“The lack of sexuality education can lead to unnecessary anxiety and children’s interest in nudity, rude things and sex.” Better Health Channel.
Knowledge is power and information is key. When it comes to giving out the sex talk, more often it is easier said than done and that is why parents delegate the role to teachers and other parties. For instance, some parents are puzzled about where to begin when it comes to talking to children about sex and sexuality. Others assume this is common knowledge and it dawns on teenagers once they attain teenage hood hence, “why should they engage in immoral behaviours?” Out of denial, other parents deduce that teenagers should not be exposed to sex information as it will prompt them to start indulging in the activity. However, it should be realised that “The lack of sexuality education can lead to unnecessary anxiety and children’s interest in nudity, rude things and sex.” Better Health Channel.
Teenagers having sex is a fact more than a myth. They are also growing fast being bombarded with messages from the media on sex.
Dr. Kigen (@kigenkorir): There is a tendency to imagine that young people are not having sex & a tendency to want to legislate teen sexuality; in reality, adolescents ARE having sex. Let's acknowledge this so that we can own the agenda arnd finding solutions to #TeenPregnancyKE
In addition to this, the changing times, and constant messages on the internet which continue to fuel #shagnation, only create a barrier between parents and teenagers. Such a parent might find it hard to communicate effectively with Generation Z due to the difference in beliefs. This also creates a challenge for such a parent to be emotionally engaged in a teenager’s life whose issues have something to do with Whatsapp, Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Especially since all the above are not relatable to the traditional parent but contribute greatly to morality and changing behaviours.
This is why rather than using traditional ways and principles to talk to the current teenager, parents alongside teachers and other positive adult figures should be enlightened on when and how to get messages across to prevent teenagers from upholding external sources as their belief system. Parenting: 4 Tips For Talking To Kids Openly About Sexuality
The Oxford Dictionary defines misinformation as false or inaccurate information, especially that which is deliberately intended to deceive. Since time immemorial, don’t eat the fruit only contributed to eating the fruit. The lack of accurate information only contributes to curiosity and this can prompt teenagers to turn to other sources if not friends.
Therefore, with sex education and reproductive health, there is a need to listen to young people as well as create access to age-appropriate comprehensive education. This is in lieu of waiting until children reach class 6 to find out about their reproductive organs. Much emphasis should be placed on understanding the child’s sexual development and providing information based on that.
This pertains to government policies on abortion, sexuality and reproductive health. Adolescents lack the appropriate information concerning standards and guidelines relating to abortion, yet facts show that legal abortion and unsafe abortions happen exponentially.
A study carried out by African Population and Health Research (APHRC) estimates 464,690 as the number of abortions are procured in Kenya every year. The majority are unsafe resulting in complications or even death. Just the other day, two students died due to complications, after undergoing an abortion in Tharaka Nithi and Migori counties respectively. This takes us back to sex education and other contributing factors like drugs, and peer influence, where teenagers need to be informed and aware so that they can make informed decisions presently and in future. It also teaches them about the use of contraceptives. There needs to be full access and choice to contraceptives among adolescents to curb abortion and unwanted pregnancies. Whose responsibility is it to use contraceptives?
Parents, churches, mentors, teachers, society and the government need to have a voice in these policies. They should work together to help in providing age-appropriate information and developing policies on sex education.
Economic Issues and poverty
It cannot be ignored that poverty is a major factor which contributes to the increasing rates of teenage pregnancies. For instance, parents of low-income families prioritize providing basic needs to their children over other essentials like sex education which is viewed as a trivial matter or rather a topic that should be handled by teachers and other parties.
If we look at teenagers raised by poor parents, especially single parents in poverty-stricken areas, they remain at risk of being influenced to indulge in harmful behaviours since the parent is always absent looking for daily bread and the children are left behind to raise themselves. Such economic issues do not favour a teenager who also wants to escape poverty, and this might lead to early unwanted pregnancy which only adds to the statistics.
#TeenPregnancyKE cannot be solved by Sex Education in schools & seminars but POVERTY ALLEVIATION This girls are lured into unprotected sex coz of poor economic status. A girl has to trade sex for pads to bodaboda men for her to seat comfortably in those seminars you're calling pic.twitter.com/5F1fnh65f3
Cultural ideologies, regressive thinking and traditionalism often contribute to teenage pregnancies limiting a child’s access to education, building skills and even employment. This only accelerates the rate of poverty affecting the future of teen moms and rendering them social burdens. In addition to securing decent economic opportunities, early pregnancies contribute to high morbidity and mortality for both mother and child.
Therefore, it is important to eliminate retrogressive cultural practices like FGM (outlawed in Kenya since 2001) and early marriages.
The adage states that it takes a village to raise a girl, therefore;
Parents should foster a network of support and role models who the teenagers can turn to, in case they feel reluctant to talk.
Parents should maintain close relationships with their children and an environment where these children feel they can talk freely about their bodies.
They should support caregivers and teachers in schools in the provision of age-appropriate material for sex education. Read more on UNFPA.
Most importantly, the sexual development of a child should be prioritised and age-appropriate information given based on the individual’s changes, and concerns instead of generalising teenagers. Sexuality education could start as early as 8 and as late as 10 years, depending on the sexual development and growth of the child. This will help a teenager become self-aware, and synthesize media messages or what they might see on the internet.
6. Sexual Predators
These sexual predators range from men in authority, guardians, relatives, and boda-boda riders to the teachers who remain responsible for the most part of a teenager’s education life. They lure girls with free gifts, rides, goodies or good grades a tactic common in learning institutions. After preying on the young girls they threaten them with dire consequences if they dare report them. This leaves vulnerable teenage girls stigmatised and at the mercy of these sexual predators who turn them into sexual objects.
Standard reports that “Young girls walking to and from school remain at the mercy of sexual predators since they are the most vulnerable to sexual abuse. Older men are the main perpetrators of gender violence, prevalent in most regions except Nairobi and parts of the North Rift.”
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