‘What is sex?’ That is not a silly question. According to Google’s most-searched issue in 2019, this was the predominant question asked by young Kenyans.
Clearly, sex education is needed in Kenya.
Every day, on average, 1,000 girls in Kenya between the ages of 10 to 19 become pregnant. For most of them, the consequences are dire. Girls dropping out of school early, contracting sexual diseases, rejection from family members and church and in extremis, driven to seek dangerous abortions that can lead to death.
While there continues to be some opposition to sexual education in schools, the Kenyan youth do want it and indeed, need it.
Youth Will Experiment With Or Without Knowledge
In 2018 Amnesty International invited 280 students to write essays on Irresponsible Sexual Behaviour. The winner of this Humans Right Essay Competition was one, Justine Ajode who wrote the following ‘The government, parents and teachers must end irresponsible sexual behavior. The government should introduce compulsory life skills and sex education. Parents should talk about irresponsible sexual behavior. Our choices are our responsibility and it is not too late to change our mind-set’.
The reality is that the youth will experiment with sex with or without any knowledge. As Evelyn Samba, the country director of Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevoelkerung, an international development agency said ‘the government must accept that Kenyan youth are having sex’.
We may not like it but we cannot wish away nearly 400,000 teenage pregnancies each year, a figure that has remained depressingly constant for at least the last decade. We have to do something about it.
Compulsory Sex Education
Implementing a compulsory comprehensive sex education programme in schools appropriate to the age of the students is a crucial step. However teachers need to be well trained on how to impart this delicate subject but many are ill-prepared to do so.
Last year a survey conducted in Kenya among 78 private and public schools, revealed that although 75 per cent of teachers reported teaching all topics of a comprehensive sexuality education programme, only two per cent of students reported learning them all.
The survey conducted by The United Nations Cultural Organization (Unesco) also found that most teachers either taught reproductive health incorrectly or inaccurately and that the teachers themselves called for more training: so let’s give it to them.
It is also essential for parents and schools to work in harmony. Now, more than ever parents need to step in. Due to the Covid pandemic, schools have been shut since March this year and it is unlikely that children will be allowed to go back before next January 2021.
Again, some parents as with teachers may be ill-equipped or unable to provide comprehensive sex education because they are shy or embarrassed to deliver the facts of life. Equally, there will be children who are either nervous or afraid to approach their parents for advice. Special call centres could be provided, similar to the Samaritans set up, where young girls could ring for help and guidance.
It Takes Two…
The focus to date has been largely aimed at girls however boys need to be targeted just as much and taught to take responsibility and understand the consequences of their actions. After all, ‘it takes two to tango’. Current data suggests that young men (21 per cent) are twice as likely to engage in sex before the age of 15 compared to young girls (12 per cent).
Young girls who get pregnant (and many young men who impregnate them) do so out of ignorance, not because they have been taught ‘the facts of life’ but because they haven’t been.
A comprehensive sex education programme for Kenyan youngsters will also arm them with the knowledge to better plan their families when they are the appropriate age to so.
Family planning too is about dealing with the facts of life.
Delaying having her first child until she has completed her education will lead to greater expected earnings for the mother, better health for her family and in turn greater opportunities for her children. That’s a known fact of life.
If a couple then want to have more children but plan their family by spacing out subsequent births to one-and-a-half or two years or more between them that will also have an equally beneficial effect in terms of income, health and opportunity for all the family. That too is a known fact of life.
‘Knowledge is power, information is liberating’ to quote Kofi Anan, ex Secretary General of the United Nations.
Countries where a comprehensive sex education programme is taught have the lowest teenage pregnancy rates. Countries such as Denmark, The Netherlands and Switzerland, according the World Bank report, are among the top 10 with lowest rates.
Kenya is 158 out of the 194 countries on the list.
To secure the health and well-being of young Kenyan girls, a comprehensive sex education programme needs to be implemented across the board – from schools to parents. This way Kenyan girls will have a future. No more stigma, rejection or dropping out of school.
‘Education is the premise of progress in every society, in every family’. To finish Kofi Annan’s quote.