SHADOW PANDEMIC

Banish ignorance to end teen pregnancies

The solution lies in education, information, family planning and access to contraceptives

In Summary
  • Girls and young women do not get pregnant through learning about how babies are made.
  • Tens of thousands get pregnant every year because they (and many young men) don't fully understand human biology and the consequences of human physical interaction.
Image: COURTESY

What one columnist has termed the ‘shadow pandemic’ is upon us. In truth it is a scourge that has ravaged the country for many years, now made more virulent by the lockdown occasioned by the response to Covid 19. I refer to the pandemic of teenage pregnancies in Kenya.

Whilst the figures fluctuate, for several years now some 380,000 Kenyan girls and young women aged between 10 and 19 become pregnant every year, an economic, social and health disaster.

Many drop out of education blighting their chances, and in turn that of their child, of a brighter future, trapped in poverty and ignorance.

Ignorance plays its part with 40 percent of these pregnancies being unintended.

Poverty too is a factor. Some 26 per cent of teenagers in poor households are likely to fall pregnant compared to 10 percent in wealthier households.

Many young mothers and their children will face health problems. For the youngest mothers their bodies are not ready yet for reproduction. They and the older (but still young) mothers, risk severe infections, pre-term births and congenital abnormalities.

Many die as do their children. The second cause of death for 15 to 19-year-old girls is complications arising during pregnancy.

So often the reporting and debate around ‘teenage pregnancies’ concentrates or revolves around one question: who is to blame? The blame game however, will get us pretty much nowhere.

The reality is that young Kenyans are sexually active. The problem of teenage pregnancies is a fact, not an aberration. Yes the problem could be mitigated by parents or siblings talking to their daughters or sons, sister or brothers, or by greater abstinence but the problem is real and we need to deal with the reality.

The solution to the Kenya teen pregnancy pandemic lies largely in education, information and family planning and access to contraceptives.

The term ‘family planning’ too sometimes leads to misunderstanding and concern but it really just means common sense.

The term ‘sex education’ is misunderstood and gives rise to great anxiety among parents and society’s moral guardians alike. It does not mean teaching children how to have sex, or “better sex”, or encouraging them to do so. It simply means learning about biology and human reproduction thereby banishing ignorance and unwanted pregnancies.

Girls and young women do not get pregnant through learning about how babies are made. Multiple tens of thousands get pregnant every year do get pregnant because they (and many young men) do not fully understand human biology and the consequences of human physical interaction.

Ignorance is the problem, not knowledge. Better that teenage Kenyans learn from a suitable and authoritative source – parents and teachers – rather than trying to misguidedly find out for themselves through experimentation, or listening to the erroneous tittle-tattle of some of their peers.

And there’s no mystery about what is later required to defeat the shadow pandemic of teenage pregnancy, if that is we want to deal with the reality of the situation, not cower behind some moralistic façade or shy away embarrassed by the subject.

Having been educated at the appropriate age about the ‘facts of life’, Kenya’s young generation then need up-to-date and accurate information about, and access to, contraception.

If couples can decide to have a child at a time most appropriate and convenient to them both the child and the mother will be healthier, better educated and in the longer term better off financially and thus able to afford a better life for themselves and subsequent children.

The term ‘family planning’ too sometimes leads to misunderstanding and concern but it really just means common sense.

If couples can time the birth of their first child until they are educated sufficiently and financially able to provide security for the new family, they will be able to afford a better life for themselves and their children.

If thereafter the couple space the births of their subsequent children to perhaps 18 months or more between births the health and well-being of the mother and the couples burgeoning family will be greater assured.

Shine the light of truth on the problem of unintended pregnancies in Kenya and the outlook will be brighter for hundreds of thousands of young Kenyan women and girls, for their children and for the country’s future prosperity.

Gender advocate