Radar Reports | Teenage Pregnancies in Kenya: “I knew nothing about contraception and I was very much in love”
New in Ceasefire, Radar Reports - Posted on Tuesday, October 7, 2014 18:28 - 0 Comments
By Susan Yara
Kenya’s high teenage pregnancy rate has resulted in thousands of girls abandoning their education early, stunting the development of half the nation. The high number of cases has been blamed on a multitude of causes, such as early marriage, broken families, rape, peer pressure, inadequate sex education and alcohol and substance abuse.
Many cases of teenage pregnancies go unreported. Often enough, this because the girl was raped by someone she knows, such as a male relative, teacher, pastor or neighbour. Some of the cases are not reported, however, because of stigma and fear, while others never see the corridors of justice after the administration and police are bribed.
Some communities see rape and teenage pregnancy as normal and thus the perpetrator goes unpunished and is merely told to pay a dowry and marry the victim, so that she becomes his wife. This is mostly seen in the pastoral communities where the girls’ families value cattle more than looking for justice and early marriage is a common practice.
Several incidents of rape resulting in teenage pregnancy have come to light in recent months, forcing the country to confront the epidemic.
Kenyans were shocked when they heard the story of a 16-year-old girl who was raped and impregnated by her 64-year old stepfather. Joseph Waweru, a resident of Murang’a, raped the girl when she stayed home from school one day due to sickness. After some months, teachers noticed a change in the girl’s attitude. When they asked her what was wrong, she stayed silent and stopped going to school. After the teachers had reported the case, the area sub-chief, Bernard Kagoto, stormed the girl’s home demanding to know why the girl had discontinued her education.
Waweru confessed to raping his stepdaughter, but blamed ‘evil spirits’ for making him commit the act. The girl is due to give birth soon, whilst Waweru languishes in prison awaiting trial.
Waweru is not the only case that has alarmed the nation. A pastor was arrested in June after it was found that he had been sexually abusing his daughters, aged 12 and 15, whenever their mother was away on business trips.
The 15 -ear-old’s pregnancy exposed the pastor’s criminal conduct as the girl confided in neighbours. The girls’ mother is now in remand after being charged with arranging an abortion for her 15-year-old. The pastor is also in prison after being charged with incest and defilement.
While these are two shocking examples, many teenage pregnancies arise from much less scandalous situations, and indicate a severe lack of support for young girls across the country.
I interviewed Jane*, a teenage mother who discontinued her education after her first pregnancy at the age of 13. It was in 2012, when she was in class six in primary school, that she met Peter*, aged 14 , who was from a neighbouring primary school. After three months of having a relationship and being wooed by sweets and ‘mandazi’ (donuts), Jane discovered that she was pregnant.
Her body still appears child-like and it’s hard to read her eyes. She tells me how her fellow students at school humiliated her; and the stigma she felt as her pregnancy started to show. She dropped out of school. When the time came for her to give birth, she was taken to a clinic.
Unfortunately, her baby was stillborn after complications during birth and a prolonged labour. The doctors said that her reproductive organs had not yet fully developed. “It was a terrible experience, I could not bear the pain of losing the child after all the stigma I had gone through.” Jane did not return to school. She is now married to an older man with whom she has a 2-month-old baby.
“I was confused, I did not know what to do or where to go. My boyfriend deserted me, he went on with life and education as if I never existed. At that time I knew nothing about contraception and I was very much in love,” Jane says as she breastfeeds her baby.
According to a recent report by the Kenyan Government and the United Nations Population Fund, 13,000 girls leave school early every year due to pregnancy. The report stated that low income, low levels of education and little or no access to contraception and reproductive health are the major factors behind high teenage pregnancy rates in Kenya.
Philomena, a member of the Birungu Women Group, commented, “In the past, people used to think that teens had no sexual knowledge but these days the internet and media have provided sex information to the teens.” She further adds that parents should take time with their children to talk about sex instead of assuming that they are taught about sex and abstinence in school.
Young girls often face pressure from peers, notes Sally, a 15-year-old student. “In school, if you don’t have a boyfriend then you are considered to be backward and primitive.”
Many young people watch telenovelas that portray having a boyfriend as a norm to aspire to. 17-year-old Monica comments, “It is obvious that when you have a boyfriend, you have to be intimate with him or he will leave you.”
Mrs. Shida, who is a parent to three teenage daughters aged 10, 13 and 16, says that she is always worrying about her daughters and who their friends are. “It is hard being a parent to teens when you know the evil that exists in this world and that there are men who take advantage of young girls. I just hope that they will be safe when they are outside.”
“I will not let any man near my daughter. Even my daughter knows that she is not supposed to date until she reaches 18 and has completed her secondary school education. I am a man and I know how men lie to young girls and have their way with them. I would not want my daughter to get pregnant when she is this young,” says Mr. Musau, a parent to a 16-year-old girl.
The Reproductive Health Care Bill 2014 proposed access to comprehensive sexual education and provision of contraception to teens from ages 10 to 17. It was intended to reduce the high number of teenage pregnancies and engagement in risky sexual behaviours. However, it has been met by opposition from the Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (KUPPET), The Kenya National Parents and Teachers Association and the Cabinet Secretary of Education, who all claimed the Bill was ‘immoral’.
Unfortunately, without appropriate support from older sections of society, and faced with such unrelenting peer pressure, Kenyan teenage girls are set to remain, for the foreseeable future, as vulnerable as ever.
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