• A study found that two-thirds of teachers taught that abortion is immoral.
• Despite committing to the ESA commitment, the Ministry of Education has yet to develop and implement a comprehensive sexuality education curriculum that seeks to address the needs of adolescents and young people.
The debate on Comprehensive Sexuality Education has been in the sexual reproductive health and rights space for a considerable period of time.
It has been necessitated by the many adolescent and teenage pregnancies that have not only burdened the lives of young women and their families but also our economy.
Fourteen-year-old Jennifer* is currently three months pregnant; she was impregnated by a 16-year-old boy. Jennifer confessed during one of our forums that she did not have information about sexuality education from school.
Kenya was a signatory to the Eastern Southern Africa (ESA) ministerial Commitment on Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) and sexual reproductive health services for adolescents and young people. The commitment was reaffirmed by the ministers of health and education from 20 countries in 2016.
Between 2015 and 2020, Kenya was expected to reduce unplanned pregnancies, eliminate gender-based violence, develop a comprehensive sexuality education curriculum that would be rights-based, and begin from primary school.
A study conducted by the Guttmacher Institute in collaboration with the African Population and Health Research Centre in selected Kenyan schools in Homa Bay, Nairobi and Mombasa counties in 2015 showed that six in 10 teachers taught that sex is dangerous and immoral. Two-thirds of the teachers taught that abortion is immoral.
Nationally, over a third of Kenyan adolescents aged between 15 and 19, married or unmarried, have had sexual intercourse. About one-fifth of the adolescent population is currently sexually active.
With the focus and emphasis being put on abstinence, it is automatic that teachers either do not talk about pregnancy prevention through communication and contraceptive use or put less emphasis on it. This could be a possible reason for the relatively low use of contraceptives among adolescents with only 41 per cent of sexually active 15-19-year-olds currently on any contraceptive method.
Despite committing to the ESA commitment, the Ministry of Education has yet to develop and implement a comprehensive sexuality education curriculum that seeks to address the needs of adolescents and young people. The ministry has developed policies that have largely promoted HIV education and put emphasis on abstinence, limiting the scope of topics taught in school. Teachers, therefore, convey very conservative messages focusing only on abstinence.
Most teachers are highly inclined to the values and norms that society considers appropriate in regulating human relationships. These values and norms highly influence their teaching method and attitudes and in most cases, they are opposed to some aspects of comprehensive sexuality education such as contraceptive use. The teachers believe that the availability of contraceptives for young people will make them promiscuous. They also hold negative attitudes towards pre-marital sex.
For Comprehensive Sexuality Education to yield the expected results, teaching methods need to be diversified. They need to avoid the use of fear-based, moralistic messages but instead emphasise the promotion of practical skills and confidence. The Ministry of Education should develop a comprehensive sexuality education curriculum and invest in teacher training so that they can confidently and effectively teach comprehensive sexuality education.
With the month of May committed to preventing and ending teenage pregnancy worldwide, Kenya should be at the forefront of marking significant progress in the course, especially by re-committing to the ESA Commitment on Comprehensive Sexuality Education.
The writer is Reproductive Health Advocate, Youth Changers Kenya.