Teenage pregnancy has been on the rise in Kenya for many years and the situation is likely to get out of hand if nothing is done. A report released Last week as the world marked The International Day of the Girl Child showed that Kenya is one of the countries with higher levels of teenage pregnancies.
According to studies, nearly 3 in every 10 teenage girls are having babies. The age bracket is normally between 15 to 19 and in most cases these are normally school going children either in primary or secondary school, who as a result of the unwanted pregnancies are forced to drop out of school.
Several factors which include peer pressure, rape, cultural practices, lack of sexual awareness and abuse of alcohol and drugs have been attributed to teenage pregnancies but the biggest association is with poverty. This explains why teenage pregnancies are more usual in the rural parts of Kenya especially among poor households.
In the northern parts of Kenya for instance, early marriages are very common especially in times of crisis, a trend that has been referred to as drought brides. Parents marry off their teenage daughters to older men in exchange for money and livestock. The average age at marriage for North Eastern is said to be 17.9 years compared to 24 years in Nairobi.
Mary Makokha, The Executive Director of Rural Education and Economic Enhancement Programme, revealed to participants during the International Day of the Girl-Child in Butula that her organization has found over 500 cases of early pregnancies and also rescued 621 girls from early marriage in Butula and Nambale districts in Busia County since 2004.
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE TO COMBAT TEENAGE PREGNANCIES
Teenage pregnancy remains the biggest killer of teenage girls in the developing world. Young women aged 15 to 19 are twice as likely to die from complications in pregnancy as compared to older women. The chances of death in the first year of life for a baby born to a woman under the age of 18 is 60 per cent greater than that of one born to woman aged 19 or older.
Considering that research has shown that early marriages are more prominent in areas where poverty is high and low education levels, awareness campaigns as well as initiatives that could raise the living standards of those affected could go a great way in alleviating cases of teenage pregnancies.
Sex education is also critical to teenagers especially because most parents shy away from discussing sex with their children. In the traditional set up, sex is a taboo subject and any issues related to sex remained in the confines of a married couple’s bedroom. It was never discussed in public although some communities offer sex lessons to brides-to-be, albeit in seclusion.
Society in general, however has changed, and sexual activity is frequently portayed through the medias with children as young as 10 year old being exposed. The internet, being the least controlled of the medias, is a prime vector. The confusing absence of discussion by parents and educators, yet the seeming promotion of sexual activity on TV and the internet and indeed advertising, could well be a factor in promoting teenage experimentation, and eventual pregnacy.
Increased levels of knowledge about modern methods of contraception as well as making them available and affordable, is also essential. It’s believed that women who lack access to contraception account for 82 per cent of the 75 million unplanned pregnancies that occur globally.
However, if teenage pregnancy is to be controlled and reduced we must realize that the solution lies in a shared responsibility that incorporates the community at large, the government and other stake holders and the teenagers themselves.