Among the hundreds of thousands of teenage mothers Kenya produces each year is one Semeyian (not her real name) Laikipia county. At only 14 years old, Semeyian is already a mother to a six-months-old girl. Her breasts are still far from being fully developed, which forces her to rise up early in the morning to fetch goat milk and feed her baby with the help of her 48-year-old mother.
Her homestead has two manyattas, and out of one comes Semeiyan. She is wrapped in a red Maasai shuka, shielding herself from the cold. Surrounded by her mother and elder sister, who is 17 years old and eight months pregnant, Semeyian struggles to hold her baby. She is saddened by the fact that her boyfriend, whom she dated for one year, decided to run away after realising she was heavy with his child.
“I met my boyfriend in September 2016. He was my neighbour. We dated for a few months and along the line we had unprotected sex. It was our first time and we never thought of using a condom. When I told him I was pregnant, he cut all ties with me and up to date, I cannot reach him on his mobile phone,” Semeiyan says.
Her boyfriend, who is 20, is a gatekeeper at a ranch in Nanyuki. The mother of the young man, she explains, often doesn’t want to see her. It saddens her because she thought the young man cared about her and her welfare. Also of concern to her is the lack of proper education or mentorship on matters sexual education, which she says would have influenced her decision on whether to sleep with her boyfriend.
“My mother tried to talk to the parents of my boyfriend but they didn’t listen. I regret what I did. I wish I thought twice about it and concentrated more on my studies. But I am still determined to go back to school and finish my education. I want to become a teacher in future, an idea that my mother has supported,” she says.
Over 300,000 adolescent girls aged 10 to 19 years became pregnant between July 2016 and June 2017. Narok county had the highest burden of teenage pregnancies with a rate of 40 per cent, surpassing the national average of 18 per cent.
Narok was followed by Homa Bay at 33 per cent, West Pokot at 29 per cent, Samburu at 26 percent, while Isiolo and Laikipia recorded 19 per cent. The statistics released by the Health ministry put the total number of pregnant girls at 378,395.
Semeiyan’s elder sister Naipanoi (not her real name) also dropped out of school while in form 3. When the organisation sponsoring her education found out she was pregnant, it discontinued her scholarship. This worried her mother, who had pegged all her hopes on the fourth-born child.
Naipanoi is almost due now but has never attended a clinical visit, as is required of a pregnant woman. She explains that the lack of money has made her pregnancy very difficult. She once tried to get the opinion of a midwife from the area but was told to first visit a clinic and have a number of tests carried out on her.
Although she gets to feel the kicks of her baby in the womb, she still needs to undergo some blood tests. The fact that she has never been to a hospital to assess the condition of the baby brings her to tears. She tries to fight it but it overwhelms her.
Naipanoi also suffered the same fate as her sister Semeyian. After dating her boyfriend from a nearby homestead for close to a year, the young man ran away and left her to deal with the new responsibilities alone. The remorse, she says, will eat at her every day of her life.
“I am haunted by guilt. My heart is heavy because of what I have put my mother through. She had high hopes in me but here we are both pregnant. We have added to her troubles. I feel terrible about it, more so since my boyfriend decided to leave me with this child. I don’t know what I will do,” she sobs.
Her mother, who reeks of alcohol and sells miraa (khat) and charcoal for a living, says she cannot throw away her children because of the unfortunate incidents.
“Naipanoi’s case saddened me the most. I had very high hopes in her. But they remain to be my children and I will do whatever it takes to fend for them. I know I’m not cursed, this is just bad luck. It’s the devil,” she says.
She insists the rich kids from the neighborhood have taken advantage of the weak and vulnerable ones because they know they have nowhere to run to.
Being pregnant has shuttered Naipanoi’s dreams of becoming a nurse. Thoughts of abortion have crossed her mind but she resorted to keep the baby. The teen intends to go back to school and finish her education. She vows never to get married until she achieves her dreams.
“I would advise girls my age not to engage in premarital sex. And if you are ever caught in my situation, don’t think about abortion because God will take care of it. My hope is in Him. None of my friends have visited me. It deeply disturbs me. But I will overcome,” she says.
Naipanoi hopes the organisation that funded her education forgives her and reconsiders her case.
The two girls’ stories are glaring indications that sex among youths begins early and is approaching endemic levels, if nothing is done to stem the trend.
The girls’ mother pleads for the purchase of some miraa so she can get something to fend for her girls. Her elder children include two girls who have already been married and a man who is yet to settle. Her last born is a son aged 10.
WHY TREND PERSISTS
According to a policy brief by the Health ministry, teenage pregnancy persists for a number of reasons, including inadequate access to reproductive health information and services, cultural and religious taboos, and poverty.
It further states that sex education is inadequate in schools and at home. Few adolescents receive comprehensive sex education, and often teachers do not have sufficient training to give students correct information. While the Education ministry acknowledges the need to provide information on sexuality, the lack of access to comprehensive sex education in schools contributes to teenage pregnancy and its consequences.
Childbirth can be especially risky for adolescent girls and their babies. Maternal death rates for young women aged 15 to 19 are twice as high as for women in their 20s. Research suggests that girls aged 10 to 14 are five times more likely to die of maternal causes than women aged 20 to 24. First-time adolescent mothers are at most risk.
A separate study conducted by the African Population and Health Research Centre found that lack of accurate sex education in schools is leading to a high number of pregnancy among students. The report released in September showed that by the time girls are 19, half of them in schools are usually sexually active, about 40 per cent are married, and close to 20 per cent have children.