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February 21, 2019

FAITH MWENDE: Who’s to blame for teen pregnancies?

A teen pregnancy.
A teen pregnancy.

Over the years we get to hear, just before the national exams, of girls who are either pregnant, have babies or are almost due. This triggers discussion on girls sitting exams in hospital or the school with the highest number of pregnant girls. However, we rarely probe this matter further.

The UNFPA this year released alarming data on teenage pregnancies in Kenya. It was reported that approximately 378,397 girls aged 10-19 got pregnant between July 2016 and June this year. Some 28,932 girls aged 10-14 years got pregnant, while 349,465 were between 15 and 19.

Narok county recorded the highest rate of teen pregnancies at 40 per cent, followed by Homa Bay at 33 per cent, Tana River 28 per cent, Nyamira 28 per cent, and Samburu 26 per cent. These are not just numbers but someone’s daughter, sister, cousin, granddaughter. This therefore calls for us as a society to stop talking in hushed tones and openly discuss teenage pregnancies.

The 28,932 girls were in Standard 5 to 8. These are children who, unfortunately, are also having children. They are ‘child parents’ or ‘children bringing up children’. On August 1 it was reported in the news that a group of primary school children had been caught having sex.

Where did we go wrong as a society? When did the rain start beating us? How will we handle this situation? Is it time for us to speak more openly about sex and provide age-appropriate sex education?

I grew up in a society where a child belonged to the community. A stranger could discipline you and tell on you to your parents when you were caught doing wrong. We grew up knowing sex was wrong and was to be avoided at all costs. But the times have changed with technological advancement, more freedoms and rights for our children, and everyone minding their own business. How will we as a society work together to delay the age of sexual debut?

Still the question lingers, why the high number of teen pregnancies? Some people might attribute this to poverty and argue that girls engage in transitional sex to meet basic needs. Others might argue that it is due to absentee parents or lack of parental guidance, as well as exposure to information on the internet that piques the curiosity of the young people.

Others say the girls are ‘mature minors’ who consented to sex. Finally there are those who attribute this to some people taking advantage of the girls’ innocence.

The bottom line remains, we have a large number of teenage mothers and this needs to change.

We need to ask ourselves the hard question: How can we avert teenage pregnancies? I believe it is time we strongly supported age-appropriate sex education at all levels, from the family to school and even places of worship. We all need to be on the same page when it comes to what we mean by age-appropriate sex education and the information we provide.

It is also time we acknowledged that many children are being defiled while society dismisses this with a flippant “the girl consented to sex”. The girl in question is a minor; these cases need to be investigated.

Lastly, we have shied away from this for far too long but isn’t it time we acknowledged that when all is said and done we will have teenagers who require contraceptives? This is a discussion that needs to take place.

In the words of James C Dobson, parenting is not for cowards. We all have a role to play, let us stop the blame game and take up our places in bringing up a better informed, better equipped and empowered generation that can make the right decisions and choices.

Social scientist 

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