Lets Prioritize the Life of Adolescents in Kenya

Scholars, researchers, policy makers, activists, young and old people and even adolescents from Kenya and beyond descended into Nairobi early last week for the first National Adolescent Health Symposium to deliberate on the deteriorating health standards of the Kenyan adolescent and debate what must be done to ensure that this vital age group are kept away from the jaws of diseases and death.

The World Health Organization reports that adolescents are often thought as a healthy group but many die prematurely due to accidents, suicide, violence, pregnancy related complications and other illness that are either preventable or treatable.

That statement couldn’t have been truer anywhere else than in Kenya, a nation where one out of four persons is an adolescent. Despite their numerical superiority, it is baffling that adolescents are still not visible, even when they are right in the face of the society.

Our media is replete of stories of adolescent truancy. No day passes by without some report that a group of school going children were either found drunk or participating in some sexual orgy. Yet, instead of treating this as a wake-up call, we have descended into bashing and comparing the current generation to the ’pious’ old days of our ancestors. We do not for a second stop and ask ourselves the role the society has played in all this manifestation of ‘spoilt’ adolescents.

The truth is adolescence is a stage that comes with its unique challenges that if not properly handled can cause disease, injury, disability, death and even reduce the quality of life in adulthood.

Recent studies reveal glaring indicators in adolescence. Adolescence do not only start having sex early, they have it with multiple sexual partners, sometimes older people. Underage drinking and smoking is yet another cause of concern, as in physical inactivity and diet. This has been manifested in the double burden of the HIV/AIDS of the world and the increasing threat from non-communicable diseases such as cancers, diabetes and obesity.

But is all this the adolescent fault? Should they bare the cross for the own sins? Absolutely Not.

The truth is as a nation we have let our adolescents down. We have failed to deliberately plan for this fragile group. We have, either by design or oversight, assumed that nature will take care of its course, the way it has always done. Today’s adolescent is increasingly at major threats due to technological advancements that expose them to potential health hazards only reinforced with limited parental guidance. A recent study revealed that the average Nairobi parent spends negligible hours per day with their children. Where would they get information on menstruation or on boy and girl relationships, or on diet, or on managing stress etc.?

Most of this concerns are however policy issues. For example provision of age appropriate comprehensive sexuality education, or access to youth friendly services, or access to family planning for the sexually active adolescent, or even meaningfully involving them in policy processes on issues that affect them.

It is time to translate research into action for policy makers.

This however cannot be done when rhetoric, personal beliefs, innuendos and jingoism come in the way of evidence based interventions.

After all who gains when the future of our nation is not guaranteed?

ROBERT ASEDA is the Partnerships and Policy Officer at the Network for Adolescents and Youth of Africa-Kenya Chapter, a youth led advocacy network that does sexual and reproductive health and rights advocacy. He has a BSc. Population Health from Kenyatta University. He has undergone training on budget advocacy, policy advocacy and media advocacy by Planned Parenthood Global and Choice for Youth and Sexuality of the Netherlands. He has been involved in the ICPD process and is currently the chairman of the National Youth Consortium on the POST2015 Development Agenda comprising of young people from organizations working in the area of sexual and reproductive health and rights in Kenya. He is also a radio personality, a creative blogger, poet and a regular contributor to local dailies in Kenya. Connect with him on twitter: @Varaq

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