CONSENT AGE DEBATE

Childbearing begins early for Kenyan women, survey reveals

Almost one-quarter of women give birth by age 18 and nearly half by age 20

In Summary

• Debate was sparked on March 26 by three Court of Appeal judges who said time is ripe for a realistic discussion about lowering the age of consent to 16.

• Sex at younger ages is very common and jails are teeming with men and boys convicted of defiling willing partners.

Campaign against teenage pregnancy started in Mt.Elgon Region.
Campaign against teenage pregnancy started in Mt.Elgon Region.
Image: FILE

As the debate rages on whether to lower or raise the age of sexual consent in Kenya, statistics on childbearing reveal sexual activities are ongoing among teens. 

According to the 2014 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey, childbearing begins early in Kenya, with almost one-quarter of women giving birth by age 18 and nearly half by age 20.

The survey shows that 18 per cent of adolescent women age 15-19 were already mothers or pregnant with their first child and this trend has remained unchanged in the last five years. 

 
 

The legal age of consent is 18 for both girls and boys.

On March 26, three Court of Appeal judges suggested the public discuss whether it would be realistic to lower the age of consent to 16.

Judges Roselyn Nambuye, Daniel Musinga and Patrick Kiage ruled that time was ripe for the country to consider changing the Sexual Offences Act.

Sex at younger ages is common and jails are teeming with men and boys convicted of defiling willing partners, the judges noted. 

But on Monday, secondary school heads said the age of consent for sex needs to be increased to 20.

Most young people graduate from secondary school between ages 17 to 20.

That still doesn’t mean their brains are mature, their judgement and impulse control are sound.

 
 
 

The Kenya Secondary School Heads Association on Monday said the current debate about lowering the age of sexual consent to 16 years of age portrays the country as losing its morals and direction.

The KDHS shows that the median age of first sexual intercourse among men age 20-49 (17.4 years) is also slightly lower than that among women (18.0 years).

Fifteen per cent of women age 20-49 had first sexual intercourse by age 15, 50 per cent by age 18, and 71 per cent by age 20.

Twenty-two per cent of men age 20-49 had first sexual intercourse by age 15, 56 per cent by age 18, and 76 per cent by age 20. 

KDHS reported 15 per cent of women age 15-19 have already had a birth while 18 per cent have begun childbearing.

The survey is a national sample survey designed to provide detailed information on aspects of health across Kenya and in each of the 47 counties.

In 2014, the survey targeted 40,300 households.

The KDHS is conducted every five years.

The 2014 KDHS was the sixth in Kenya, following those carried out in 1989, 1993, 1998, 2003, and 2008-09, and it is the first to provide information at the county level.

The percentage of women who had begun childbearing increases rapidly with age, from about 3 per cent among women age 15 to 40 per cent among women age 19, the survey showed.

The rural-urban differences were small, indicating that early childbearing was nearly the same across places of residence.

Prevalence of early childbearing was highest in the Nyanza region followed by Rift Valley and Coast; it was lowest in Central and North Eastern region.

Slightly more than three in 10 women age 15-19 with no education had begun childbearing compared with only 12 per cent among those who had a secondary or higher level of education, according to the survey.

Similarly, teenagers from poorer households were more likely to have begun childbearing (26 per cent) than were teenagers from wealthier households (10 per cent).

“As a country are we running mad that we now want to start discussing at which age a girl should consent to sex? Unless we are saying as a county that we are mad. If we are mad, then, yes, reduce the age of consent to sex to 16,” Kessha chairman Indimuli Kahi said.

Kahi said as a matter of principle, the association wants the age to be increased to 20, when the young adults have completed their secondary education.

“If before age of 18 they are not allowed to drive, drink or do some other things, why do we want them to be allowed to start riding other things?

“But if you do that, then don’t blame a teacher or any other adult if they are found with such a case,” Kahi said.

Experts, neuroscientists, biologists and psychologists say that in teens and young adults, the amygdala or primitive  ‘reptile brain’ — the gut instinct — dominates.

But as they get older the prefrontal cortex dominates. It’s in charge of impulse control, emotional reactions, planning skills, focusing attention, prioritising information, among other things.

The principals are meeting at the Kenya School of Revenue Administration in Mombasa for their 44th annual conference.

They said they stand for positive moral values.