• Child sexual exploitation and abuse lead to early and unintended pregnancy
• Most adolescent mothers are victims of sexual violence by people known to them
Nafula* (not her real name), 16, was raped by her 19-year-old boyfriend, who beat and dragged her to his house in Kakamega.
The boyfriend capitalised on narrow village roads, tall vegetation and darkness when the sun was setting to take advantage of her.
“I didn’t want to have sex with him but he threatened to stab me. The man later surrendered to the police after I reported but was released three days later with no reason,” Nafula said.
Three weeks later, Nafula started experiencing nausea, dizziness, faintness, mood swings and morning sickness. The man, a boda boda rider, has kept off since 2017, when she gave birth.
“I didn’t go to the hospital or school until I gave birth,” she said.
Nafula is just one classic example among thousands of teenagers forced into motherhood through agonising experiences such as rape, defilement, intimidation and forced early marriage.
A report by civil society organisation Haki Jamii on 'The right to education of pregnant girls' and a series of interviews show that most victims failed to access medical attention and counselling, which leads to depression, health problems, lifetime psychological trauma, poverty or suicide.
“Many girls who have been defiled are at risk of serious health complications, stigma and discrimination,” Haki Jamii founder Pauline Vata said.
Vata said most vulnerable are girls from poor families.
Population Services International reproductive manager Joseph Mutweleli said sexual violence includes rape, defilement, early marriage, female genital mutilation, sexual exploitation and forced prostitution.
Mutweleli said 18 per cent of teenagers are victims of sexual violence hence already pregnant or mothers.
“Some communities force girls as young as 12 to get married. We have cases where people beat and force girls to do things they don’t know at their tender age,” Mutweli said.
A Kenya Legal and Ethical Issues Network (Kelin) report this year said adolescent mothers were experiencing extreme physical, sexual and mental health consequences.
These include unplanned pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, depression, trauma and anxiety.
Others are risky sexual behaviours, drugs and alcohol abuse, early marriage, early motherhood and unsafe abortion.
Child sexual exploitation and abuse, often committed by people whom victims know, often lead to early and unintended pregnancy.
“Most cases we get happen within the family. But mothers often don’t report it because there’s a lot of fear about being stigmatised and getting divorced and being left,” Vata said.
Irene, whose daughter became pregnant, said she did not know she can report to police so the person who defiled her could be prosecuted.
Wanjiku* is part of the street families on River Road as a single mother after she was raped by a stranger she only knows by one name, Kama.
“He used to bring me food in the morning and I suspect he was from work. We could joke and play. One day he pulled me in that dark corridor (pointing) and forced me to have sex with him,” a teary Wanjiku narrates.
“And then we started enjoying sex frequently the following days.”
The light-skinned girl with black spots, who relies on well-wishers and dustbin contents to survive, said the tall, dark, composed and handsome man stopped passing by when she told him that her breasts have swollen and she was experiencing fatigue, vomiting and food cravings.
“Later I grew big and friends alerted me that I am pregnant. He was nowhere,” she said.
Wanjiku settled on the streets five years ago after her mother, the only parent she knew, was killed by robbers in Nakuru.
“I did not have a place to go since my close relatives didn’t even want to see me when my mother was still alive,” she said, sniffing her glue from one hand and holding her two-year-old light baby in the right hand.
“Men still take advantage of me since I am addicted to sex and I know I can get pregnant again or diseases,” she said.
Kelin warns that, “Sexual violence recognised as a public health and human rights issue is prevalent among adolescent girls.”
RIGHT TO EDUCATION
Josephine*, a pregnant girl who is lucky to remain in school, said she occasionally misses school because of tiredness.
“I want to carry on with education after I deliver because I want to be a science teacher. I’m afraid that after I deliver my mum will not support me to go back to school,” she said.
Mwende*, 15, said she missed out on three years of education after she got pregnant. Her classmate, Sharlene* (now 17), also missed out on two years of education.
Haki Jamii's Vata said dropping out of school, and to a lesser extent having your education disrupted, means a girl cannot fully benefit from education.
“It affects a girl’s future, her ability to be independent, and it can push her into early marriage,” Vata said.
“For many girls who get pregnant, they feel shame because they believe they have done something wrong, even if the cause of their pregnancy is a form of sexual violence.”
The community regards teenage mothers' parents as having failed when their daughters get pregnant at a tender age.
Emisiko said in 2017 she found out her daughter Muna* was seven months pregnant. Muna was so scared to tell her mother that she got her friend to do it for her. When Emisiko approached her daughter, the girl said she wanted to have an abortion but Emisiko refused.
Later, when Emisiko told her husband Muna was pregnant, he was upset and blamed Emisiko, telling her, “You’ve failed as a parent.”
The pregnancy caused such a massive rift between Emisiko and her husband that he refused to support the family and left for Nairobi, where he lives.
“We haven’t heard from him since,” Phelesa told Haki Jamii.
Adolescent mothers believe their teachers and schoolmates would treat them differently if they found out they were teenage mothers, which is true in most cases.
“I felt so ashamed. Everyone knew what had happened to me and I couldn’t face going back to school, despite pressure from everyone who knew me,” Nafula said.
Molested children really want to go back to school but stigma and lack of school fees pose a challenge.
“I have three friends who have all given birth, too, and they really encourage me to go back to school. But I have no one to help me look since my grandma is really busy with church,” Nafula said.
Nafula’s grandmother said she was heartbroken when she found out her granddaughter was pregnant.
“At first she wouldn’t tell me who did this to her but after being persistent, she eventually did. I actually feared to approach her since I was afraid she might commit suicide,” the grandmother said.
Vata said sexual violence victims often feel shame because of a belief that it is her own fault or because the sexual assault makes her a bad or damaged person.
This kind of a shame, although painfully felt as if it comes from within, is actually the product of stigmatisation.
“Girls blame themselves from their own vulnerability and victimhood and feel shamed,” Vata said.
Stigmatisation, which oftens leads to discrimination, can be so strong that sometimes family members turn a blind eye and make the decision not to report cases to the police.
“One of the key actions required to keep girls in schools is to dismantle harmful gender stereotypes and stigmatisation. It is believed that girls who have had sex, pregnant girls, and girls who have given birth are a ‘bad influence,” she said.
Most teachers want adolescent girls readmitted to school. However, there is no policy to support and protect adolescent mothers.
Only strong girls who accept the stigmatisation and the shame that comes along with it remain in school.
STRUGGLE TO RESUME STUDIES
“I got pregnant when I was 15. I ran away from home to be with my boyfriend [then 17].’ ‘He promised to get me a job,” Atieno* said in a Hakii Jamii report.
“When I left home to Kitale, there was no job and I was made to stay at home,” she said.
She ran away after staying home for five months and got a job as a house cleaner in Nyeri, where she gave birth to her daughter.
Her employer helped her take care of the baby but she knew this wasn’t a permanent solution. She reached out to her father, with whom she didn’t have a great relationship, who asked her to come back home so that he takes Atieno back to school.
She made it home just as the child’s teeth were coming through, which in the culture is a very important tradition.
“But my father got seriously ill and all the family’s money went towards paying his hospital bills, hence he failed to fulfil his promise of taking me to school,” she said.
He died, leaving her and her mother to look after the baby.
Jezebel* was lucky to access the government bursary and go back to school three years after she dropped out.
Grace Sande, a women’s rights activist and secretary at Pamazuko, said she knows a 16-year-old girl who was defiled by an older married man before she got married as a second wife.
“The girl in return gets food for living with him. When I asked the mother what happened, she accused me of being jealous. I reported the man to the local administration but he compromised them and he is free now,” Grace said.
Sande reported to police a case of a 15-year-old raped by her father after the mother travelled to Nairobi in search of a job.
“I took the girl to hospital but when they got back to the house, the father, 28, a mason, was not prosecuted. After a year of being married, she gave birth to a boy on April 22, 2019,” Grace told Haki Jamii.