National exams, namely, KCPE and KCSE have always had a way of bringing to light the reality of teenage pregnancies in Kenya and invoking the much-needed national conversation on this crisis, sadly, the discourse is often short-lived and ends up being overtaken by other events until the next examination year.
Cases of girls going into labour while sitting for exams or having their exams from a labour ward have become a common occurrence that no longer raises eyebrows anymore. However, the 2020 KCSE exams could have recorded the highest number of girls who sat for their exams in maternity wards and this should call for drastic action, not the usual lip service.
According to the Ministry of education, 652 candidates of the total 747,161 candidates, who sat for the 2020 KCSE national exams, wrote their papers from maternity wards in various hospitals in the counties.
Data from the Demographic and Health Surveys shows that almost 2 out of 10 girls between the ages of 15 and 19 are reported to be pregnant or have had a child already. This trend has been fairly consistent for more than two decades with little change in prevalence between 1993 and 2014.
Poverty contributes to high teen pregnancy rates
Poverty has for a long time been cited as one of the key causes of teenage pregnancies and it is, as well as sexual violence, but another key factor we have refused to pay attention to either out of sheer ignorance or denial is the consensual peer to peer sex among teenagers.
Our teenagers are having sex, perhaps even more than their parents are and just asking them to abstain cannot just be all we have to offer.
Today’s teenagers are more empowered and part of this empowerment is the recognition that they have a CHOICE and a VOICE, and as such a teen will have sex because she can, regardless of societal approval.
A study conducted by the Nairobi Brain Trust (NBT) Network in 2014 revealed that teenage girls in Nairobi County were having sex at a young age, as early as 14.
National campaign to end teenage pregnancies
Last year, just a few weeks before the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak was reported in Kenya, a national dialogue and campaign to end teenage pregnancies was launched in the country.
Senator Agnes Zanni, while speaking during the National Dialogue and launch of the campaign to end teenage pregnancies, urged stakeholders to incorporate a multifaceted approach when it comes to addressing teenage pregnancies, that paid attention to “the needs of our teenagers”.
“I think if it’s about legislation the country has enough laws and policies in place. Ending teenage pregnancies will be curved by taking a multi-sectoral approach from different stakeholders. We need to focus on interventions that tackle the issue of teenage pregnancies based on the needs of our young people,” she said.
Indeed as Senator Agnes Zanni well captured; We need to focus on interventions that tackle the issue of teenage pregnancies based on the needs of our young people and part of understanding these needs is availing the right information and reproductive services to mitigate against pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections for the sexually active teenagers, who have chosen not to abstain.
Comprehensive sexuality education
Sex has for a long time been a taboo in the African tradition and it’s therefore not a subject that most adults would be comfortable discussing outside their bedroom walls let alone with their kids and this explains the uproar and criticism against the proposed Reproductive Healthcare Bill 2019.
The Reproductive Healthcare Bill provides a framework governing access to family planning, safe motherhood, termination of pregnancy, reproductive health of adolescents and assisted reproduction.
Age appropriate comprehensive sexuality education
According to Alvin Mwangi, an SRHR Youth Advocate, access and uptake of Age-appropriate Comprehensive Sexuality Education to Adolescents and young people is vital in ensuring they are making informed choices about their social and health lives.
“The Emphasis should on sex information and services like access to contraceptives; use of condoms and we can use social media platforms and even school settings to convey this information. The key thing is to make sure the information is age-appropriate,” He said.
Indeed, society has changed and with the exposure, children are getting all over from TV, radio, internet and peers, it’s high time we took the bull by the horns and discussed the realities around sex with our children otherwise many adolescents will keep getting pregnant before their 17th birthday.