VULNERABLE POPULATION

VALENTINE NJOROGE: Teen pregnancy: It’s our problem

In Summary
  • Education will be the biggest disruptor when it comes to teen pregnancy.
  • While it is a girl who bears the consequences of being preyed on, she is not in fact the predator.

Every government wants healthy taxpayers; there is no health without sexual health, and there is no sexual health without sex education.

In December of 2005, I was fired from my breakfast show on EasyFM. I was traumatised and deeply embarrassed. So embarrassed I called a friend in Kampala and went to hide and party for about a month.

While there I started noticing glaring differences between Kenyan women and how we turn up in our relationships, vs Ugandan women and how they deliver their African sauce. I started writing what would eventually become a column about my dating life in this intrepid paper, the Star.

That weekly call to self analysis led me down a path that ended in other people’s bedrooms. And wah! si Kenyan bedrooms are different. There is the privileged woman who turns up expecting pleasure, filled to the brim with information and access to all manner of playful and protective accoutrement. There is the woman who turns up to deliver pleasure... and then there are the million plus (yes a million plus) girls who are coerced, forced or intimidated into sexual congress with grown men.

Global Citizen's data show that between March 2020 and May 2020,152,000 of these teen girls turned up pregnant. Those outside of the sexual reproductive health and rights space were stunned… how could this be? Has the lockdown left unsupervised teens with nothing but their hormones to govern them? Where were their mothers?

But a more inquisitive look at the numbers painted a horrific picture. Most of our girls were not getting pregnant by their teen boyfriends. These pregnancies were not products of sweet nothings, furtive glances and unfettered youth.

This vulnerable population had fallen prey to men who took advantage of systemic failure. Grown men provided pads in exchange for sex… they demanded sex in exchange for water… transport home after curfew... sex for fish... sex for whatever these children needed.

In 2017 the UNFPA told us that 378,397 girls aged between 10 and 19 got pregnant. If we use Q2 of 2020 as a baseline for the pandemic and multiply by four quarters (152,000 x 4) we get 608,000 teenage pregnancies for the year. The pandemic made things worse, but they were already terrible to begin with.

So where do we start? Do we jail 608,000 men? Do we build creches in schools around the country? Does the TSC put out a call for nannies to mind these babies while their mothers get back into the classroom? Does the government run a campaign convincing parents to continue investing in the daughter who got pregnant?

Do the curriculum developers create a sex education programme that tells our children that the bodies of boys and the bodies of girls are equal in value and that both deserve care and respect? Does the ministry of Health issue contraception for free? And educate teens on how to manage their sex lives? Yes! Yes! Yes! to it all.

We all have spheres of influence, maybe you work in HR and can get someone to speak to the parents in your organisation on this issue? Are you active in your church or chama? Are you on social media? Do you know who is running for MCA in your area? Do they have a plan for teens?

Saying no to sex education; no to contraceptives; no to teen mums going back to school got us here. It's time to say yes. yes! We do it all.

We do it all and collect all the data we can get our hands on so that we know what is working and then we invest more in that course of action. We do it all because the numbers I have shared tell us that right now more than a million babies and toddlers are being raised by teenagers. Teenagers who most likely dropped out of school and are staring poverty in the eye.

The late President Mwai Kibaki was a visionary who (arguably) left Kenyans four things – NG-CDF, a new constitution, free primary school education and Vision 2030.

I believe free primary school education is the reason we even have reliable data on girls. Once the girls walk into a classroom they are within a system that queries any absence. This system frequently finds the answer is either FGM, child marriage or teen pregnancy.

Ladies, Vision 2030 included our uteruses and Kenya committed to

  1. a) reduce the unmet need for family planning for all women,
  2. b) enhance the capacity of service providers who provide family planning information and services,
  3. c) reduce pregnancy among adolescent girls and
  4. d) transform social and gender norms to improve male engagement in family planning.
  5.  

Covid-19 has shown us that we are failing in implementing these commitments, but it has also shown how we are failing.

In my opinion it is education that will be the biggest disruptor when it comes to teen pregnancy. Educating the girl on her body and how it works. Educating boys, well before they become men, that girls and women have inherent value and they are not to be preyed on.

Educating service providers on non-judgemental ways to deliver information and services. Educating all of us on what consensual sexual interaction is. Educating parents, the clergy and congregations so they may speak to children about sex.

Making sure that teen mums get back into school so they and their children are not doomed to poverty. We also need to educate the morality police that they may point and frame their punitive gaze correctly... because while it is a girl who bears the consequences of being preyed on, she is not in fact the predator.

Every government wants healthy taxpayers; there is no health without sexual health, and there is no sexual health without sex education.

We all have spheres of influence, maybe you work in HR and can get someone to speak to the parents in your organisation on this issue? Are you active in your church or chama? Are you on social media? Do you know who is running for MCA in your area? Do they have a plan for teens?

Moving from commitment requires all of us to lend our voices to champion access to family planning services for all throughout the country. I’ll be talking about these commitments on my social media platforms, be sure to follow me there and learn how we can move from commitments to actions.

Valentine Njoroge
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