Red flag over rise in suicides and teenage pregnancies in Machakos

Garissa sub-county commissioner Hiddi Galgallo.
Garissa sub-county commissioner Hiddi Galgallo.

Machakos county commissioner Abdullahi Hiddi yesterday raised the alarm over increase in suicides.

He said the rate is chilling. Hiddi spoke to 31 members of the County Area Advisory Council (CAAC) in Machakos town. He took charge of the county barely four months ago.

“The number of suicide cases I’m receiving in my office on a daily basis is quite shocking. Hardly a day passes without reports of a person who has taken his own life,” Hiddi said.

He called for communicating with residents about suicide in barazas, churches and every public forum “before it gets out of hand.”

He said the trend is unacceptable as it hurts individual well-being and socioeconomic development.

Most of those who take their lives are male adults aged between 18 and 40, he said. They are in their most productive years.

Hiddi urged religious and community leaders to find solutions.

As he made the revelations, the Children’s department also expressed concern over the high number of girls falling victim to sex predators.

Statistics from health facilities paint a grim picture. The department’s findings show that 2,040 girls aged 10 to 14 got pregnant between January and October. Over the same period, 8,016 girls aged 15 to 19 visited health facilities for pregnancy-related treatment. Actual numbers are higher because of undocumented cases.

County children’s officer Salome Muthama said the statistics are worrying and called for concerted efforts to fix the problem. She said the “disturbing levels” portend a real threat to economic growth and hurt efforts to eradicate poverty and tackle crime.

“We’re talking about children giving birth to children. With these kids engaging in casual sex, we’re staring at more HIV-Aids infections and more children dropping out of school. The vast majority later turn to prostitution and criminal activities to make ends meet. It’s a disaster in waiting,” Muthama told CAAC members.

One case that shows the real rot is in Kithimani, Yatta subcounty. A 17-year-old boy was found living with a 15-year-old girl and they had a one-year-old child.

Red Cross coordinator Gideon Mutua blamed the problem on society’s inability to punish culprits decisively. He said much attention has been focussed on fixing the problem instead of bringing perpetrators to book. They include fathers and teachers, he said.

Reverend Leah Ambwaya, the founder of Terry Children’s Home, concurred that the only way to deal with the problem is to prosecute culprits. She accused society of complicity. People shield molesters and undermine the war on sex abuse and some cases are settled informally, Ambwaya said.

CAAC members urged parents to be on the lookout.

Plan International programme officer Grace Wawira said parents are partly to blame. She criticised parents and guardians for becoming aliens in their children’s lives. They stay away from home on the pretext of fending for their families and children are left to their own devices, she said.

Wawira said most children turn to social media for life lessons.

“What have we done with our parenting role? We’ve failed to take our responsibility as parents and mentors of our children. This modern mantra that I’m too busy for my child is the ultimate Waterloo to our girls and boys’ future,” she warned.

According to a report released last year by the UN Population Fund on teenage pregnancies in Kenya, about one in five girls aged 15-19 had a baby or was pregnant in 2014.

UNFPA estimates that at least 20,000 girls aged under-18 give birth everyday in Africa.