By Machoni Seliphar
Teenage pregnancy has become a worldwide concern as it has brought serious consequences on victims’ health, education, and even their social life at large. More than 21 million teenage pregnancy cases are reported every year, this is according to the WHO report 2022.
In Kenya, according to the recent data presented by the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS)15% of women aged 15–19 years have ever been pregnant; 12% have had a live birth, 1% have had a pregnancy loss, and 3% are currently pregnant.
This data by the KDHS does not contain data from 10-14 teenagers who are pregnant in Kenya. Samburu County emerged top as it has recorded the highest number of teenage pregnancies at 50%. Kakamega County was at 15.1%.
Every year, Kakamega county records an average of 12, 900 cases of teen pregnancies, the early mothers’ age between ages 10-19 years as reported by the County Reproductive Health Coordinator Imelda Barasa.
In 2019 Kakamega county recorded 17489 teenage pregnancies, in 2020 the number reduced to 14,768, in 2021 15, 156 cases were recorded, while in 2022 number reduced to 11, 430 this is according to the county reproductive health coordinator.
The leading sub-counties in Kakamega County are Lukuyani at 28.1%, Ikolomani at 28.8% followed by Butere Sub County at 27.6% and Shinyalu at 24.6%, Mumias East at 22.6% and Navakholo 21.7%.
The course of the early pregnancies
According to the reproductive officer, most teenage pregnancies in Kakamega County are caused by a peer-to-peer curiosity. Most teenage mothers are day scholars and primary school-going students who have been impregnated by fellow students. Since these students cover long distances to school which at times may be dangerous because of the time they are supposed to report to schools, girls end up seeking protection from their fellow male students. As a way of appreciating them, they offer sex.
In recent times, many used to blame bodaboda operators for impregnating school-going girls by luring them with free rides to school. Although this is one of the courses for early pregnancies, it is not the major one. When these girls visit health facilities seeking pre and postnatal services, most reveal that the father of their children is their fellow student.
Also, these young girls and boys lack reproductive health education. Girls in the adolescent stage lack knowledge of the changes that occur in their bodies. There are registered cases of girls engaging in sexual activities due to curiosity, with 75% of teenagers engaging in sex to satisfy the urge of “I want to know how it feels”. They only get to learn the hard way after facing the consequences of their actions. At this stage, they need to be taught in detail, what those changes are and what might happen when they don’t take good care of themselves.
They should be taught the danger signs of sexual transmission infection, signs of pregnancy, abstinence, and even how to take care of their reproductive system. They also need to be taught life skills such as defending themselves to protect them from defilement as it is one of the courses of teenage pregnancies in the county.
Another course that has escalated early pregnancies in Kakamega County is parental negligence. According to Barasa, most parents do not know how to talk to their children about sex and related topics. Many have left the task to teachers, which is always an overwhelming since task since teachers need to handle a large number of students.
What are the impacts?
Young girls becoming pregnant at an early stage, while at school, greatly affects their education as most of them are forced to drop out of school to take care of their young ones. Few girls who get pregnant while in school complete their studies. Due to this many of them do not get to graduate from secondary school to continue with their education at a higher level.
More of these girls end up living a life that depends on well-wishers as they lack enough resources to take care of their children. These girls don’t get best of their lives as they concentrate on raising and taking care of their children from a young age.
Some teenage mothers are rejected by their families who are not ready to take up the burden of taking care of the child. Moreover, their social life is disrupted as they have to disconnect from friends due to societal judgment.
In addition, having a child at this early stage of life greatly impacts the development stages in girls. Teen mothers are unable to develop a sense of self-identity as they are forced to take up a new role in motherhood.
Most of these challenges that teen mothers go through often lead them to depression. These can lead to teenage mothers committing suicide.
The County Government of Kakamega has put in place measures to contain the increasing number of teenage mothers in the region. It includes different stakeholders, including the Department of Health, the County Commissioner’s office, the County Woman Representative at the National Assembly, police officers, youth representatives, and the Ministry of Education, coming together to find ways to curb teenage pregnancy.
Each stakeholder has a role to play in the battle against teenage pregnancy. For instance, the county commissioner’s office is working hard to abolish night vigils, commonly known as disco matanga which has also contributed to the increased cases. Ministry of education, on the other hand, is needed to incorporate sex education into the curriculum to educate students.
Also, the inclusion of intensified outreach services, platforms with information on reproductive health, parental dialogue, and training on how to address their children on sexual matters is needed.
Other interventions include the use of youth champions, where young mothers talk to teenagers about the importance of abstaining from sex, access to family planning services, and the consequences of teenage pregnancies.
The Kakamega County Woman Representative at the National Assembly Elsie Muhanda has been encouraging and supporting schoolgirls who get pregnant to resume school after delivering.
Her office has, since 2018, given full sponsorship to 120 teenage girls who became pregnant while in school and dropped out, so they can complete their education. While this initiative has positively impacted the girls, it has faced challenges, especially with the absence of the National Government Affirmative Action Fund (NGAAF). Many people have also criticized it that it may encourage girls to get pregnant to get such support.
In conclusion, teenage pregnancy is a problem that affects the entire society. It’s cause comes from the society, it is the responsibility of everyone in the society including parents, teachers, government, religious leaders and teenage mothers themselves to address the problem at hand.