Kenya: Tackle Teenage Pregnancies To Spur Development
Teenage pregnancy is not just a story. It is real, severe and has far reaching implications not just to the pregnant girl but also to the family, society and country. Available statistics paint a gloomy picture of the teenage pregnancy situation in Kenya. In the former Nyanza and Coast provinces for example, an average of three out of ten girls get pregnant.
A lot of emphasis has been laid on the immediate implications such as unsafe abortions, complicated deliveries, stillbirth, school dropouts among others but not much thought has been put into the underlying causes or into long term solutions to curb future effects.
In cases where teenagers have been coerced into sexual activity or taken advantage of, the knee jerk reaction is to bay for the perpetrators heads on a platter. And is the nature of Kenyans, the noise will die down naturally when we have found something new to talk about.
The biggest losers however in all this are the county governments. Allow me to explain.
Devolution was to spur development at the local levels in response to the immediate needs of the people. However devolution will not help in spurring development if one gender is not actively participating in the development process.
With the reality that public offices should adhere to rules of gender equity, government and organizations will be forced to import labour thus denying locals the opportunity to earn a livelihood. This is because teenage pregnancies in most cases are followed by school dropouts and with that the end of the road for the education of those victims.
Reports have shown that educating a girl has trickle down benefits to the community. Others have gone ahead and pointed out that an uneducated woman is likely not to educate her children. This is likely to lead to poverty and the continuing circle.
As units of devolvement, county development teams can take us the Singapore and the Malaysian ways. These nations whose economies were once at par with Kenya invested big in their young people and are now reaping big from the fruits of demographic dividends. They effectively harnessed the strengths and talents of their huge young people and registered enormous growth.
So what can the Solomon’s of our counties do to address the issue of teenage pregnancy which is a major deterrent for development besides its health effects?
There’s need to reign in on the sex currency. Most goods are increasingly bought with sex. A local daily wrote a sad story of ‘Sex for Water’ where women in Awasi, Kisumu County have to have sex with vendors in order to get the precious commodity. Media reports have been replete with stories of sex for fish, sex for boda boda transport, sex for grades, and sex for job opportunities among several other examples.
The greatest opportunity for intervention however is in information and education.
There has also been limited knowledge on reproduction with a cross check of teenage mothers revealing that they were not aware of the risks they put themselves to due to engaging in sexual activities. Parents at home are shy about talking about issues of sexuality with their children and the clergy are straitlaced about matters of sex. The teachers too do not go beyond shyly naming the human anatomy parts in class leaving the Kenyan youth with no credible center to get the information they need on their sexuality. A study conducted by the National AIDS and STI Control Programme (Nascop) reveals that over seven out of ten men in Kenya are clueless when it comes to putting a condom properly.
Counties therefore need to collaborate with community based organizations in their areas and fully support awareness creation programs.
County governments must also reign in on the sex pests that continue to menacingly impregnate young girls. They are not your usual offenders; they are your parents, the caregivers, the men of God and others of that ilk.
The constitution of Kenya in article 53 guarantees every child the right to be protected from abuse, neglect, harmful cultural practices, all forms of violence, inhuman treatment. The sexual offences act, the adolescent reproductive health and development policy, the national guidelines on provision of youth friendly services and the child act all talk about the needs to protect the children for future healthy population.