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Teen pregnancy: Implement dormant health policies first

A problem we'd rather ignore than confront and find solutions to.

In Summary
  • Children are not having sex and getting pregnant because a teacher told them about sex at school;
  • They are doing it because many parents are too afraid or ill equipped to confront the topic head-on.
Pregnancy
Pregnancy

It is ironic that the moral police in Kenya tend to speak the loudest about potential dangers rather than actual moral failures. This is evident in the current conversations around teenage pregnancy and what we need to do to deal with the problem.

One red hot coal in the debate is Comprehensive Sexuality Education, and whether it is the solution or just another doorway to more sexual irresponsibility.

The fact that the debate over CSE has made more headlines than the high teen pregnancy numbers we saw the other day is cause for concern. We need to stop burying our heads in the sand and get to the root of the problem.

One clear evidence that we would rather ignore than confront the real problem is how many reproductive health policies are lying dormant and yet they address the crisis at hand.

For instance, as more children get pregnant, concerned agencies refuse to implement the Kenya National School Health Policy. This is despite the fact that the accompanying National School Health Guidelines cover the very issues now being cited as gaps in fighting teenage pregnancy; including values and life skills, gender issues, child rights and protection, just to name a few.

Another document just as actively ignored is the recently reinstated Standards and Guidelines for Reducing Morbidity and Mortality from Unsafe Abortion. Since many are triggered by the word abortion in the title of the document, they fail to realise that the document squarely tackles teenage pregnancy by providing effective and research-based preventive alternatives.

Children are not having sex and getting pregnant because a teacher told them about sex at school, they are doing it because many parents are too afraid or ill equipped to confront the topic head-on.

Furthermore, despite the alarming numbers of teenage pregnancy, an overwhelming number of which are a result of sexual exploitation by predators, reports of arrests and prosecution remain scanty and anecdotal.

We need clear mechanisms for identifying and protecting vulnerable children. We need safe houses, especially now during the Covid-19 pandemic that has forced girls out of school and under the same roofs with their defilers. We also need open and safe spaces to have the sensitive conversations about sex and sexuality.

The conversation about reopening schools is not just about children sitting for the national exams, it is also about restoring the social safety net that many schools provide for vulnerable teenage girls.

The high number of teenage pregnancies may be a guarantee that fewer girls will go back to school when this is over. But resistance to adopting Sex Education is a guarantee that we will remain stuck in this cycle unless we start acting on already existing policies and guidelines.