Teenage girls being taught some skills in Narok. Such ventures will help girls to cope with challenges in teenage period.
By Mabel Keya-Shikuku/Vivian Hassan
The Kenya Data and Health Survey report (KDHS, 2014) shows that one in every five five girls between 15-19 years is either pregnant or already a mother.
A similar report by the United Nations Children’s Fund, reveals that four out of 10 girls in upper primary or secondary schools are likely to get pregnant.
Another report on the situation of girl’s education in Kenya (2018) also found that the affected girls start childbearing in their early teens between 14-16 years.
With the average percentage of teenage pregnancies in Kenya standing at 18 percent, Narok County records a disturbingly higher count of 40 percent of teen pregnancies that have been fueled by cultural practices such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), this is according to the National Demographic Survey in 2016.
These Reports paint a grim picture of the reality in the country and Narok County in particular, where the rise in teenage pregnancies in recent times, have been attributed to peer pressure, lack of availability of information on reproductive health, poor parenting, and absentee parents, vices of FGM, and early marriages in the County.
These factors have resulted in the acute rise in the number of early pregnancies in the County.
Speaking this week during a stakeholders` forum, the Narok County Director of Health, Dr. Francis Kiio, sent some shivers down the spines of the participants when he revealed that, there have been at least 758 cases of teen pregnancies that have been reported among teenage girls aged 10 to 14 years in the past five months of year. A further 6,120 cases have been reported among girls aged 15 to 19 years.
He stated that the figures were sourced from various health facilities around the County where the children went to seek prenatal and postnatal care services.
This suggests that the numbers could be potentially higher compared to what is captured on official hospital records.
Lack or scarce information on sexual education, early marriages, stigma, and discrimination against teenage pregnant girls, with girls from poor backgrounds mostly affected, have been deemed as some of the contributing factors to teenage pregnancies.
The Covid-19 pandemic and the disruptions that came with it, economically and socially has only served to exacerbate the worrying trend.
The culture of Maasai community who are dominant in Narok County, a girl as early as eight years often undergo the ’cut’ and immediately married off to older men. But when the girl gets pregnant out of wedlock, she is also immediately married off to an older man in order to avoid bringing ‘shame’ to the family.
Two teenage mums who sought refuge from the Hope Rescue Center, managed by Pastor Kimani Ngigi, detail how they had to flee their home to avoid being married off to old men in arranged marriages that were orchestrated by their parents.
Pastor Ngigi says that the two teenagers arrived at the Center while expectant and currently mothers to two newborns aged two weeks old and two days old at the time this story was done.
Pastor Ngigi has had to create a small room within the facility to host the two teenage mums and their babies.
Dr. Kiio notes that the fight against teenage pregnancies in the County is greatly hampered by weak stakeholder coordination and involvement, disjointed partner support, lack of multi-sectorial data collection tools, insufficient financial resources, and poor societal morals.
In response to rising cases of teenage pregnancy in the country, President Uhuru Kenyatta in November 2019 proposed the formation of country-specific interventions on the issue of teenage pregnancies.
To this end, the National Population Council in conjunction with line ministries and other stakeholders formed county technical working groups to address the issue.
Many cases that have been witnessed at the court since the start of the year have been linked largely to defilement on minors and incest.
It’s worth noting that, very few of these cases, which speak to the violation of the rights of minors, have been reported to the police.
During a technical team meeting held to develop a plan of action for the County Narok- North Sub-county Deputy County Commissioner, Mr. Mutuku Mwenga, on behalf of Narok County Commissioner, Mr. Evans Achoki, urged men to be actively involved in the fight against social vices.
He also called for a strengthening of social systems and strict penalties for the offenders in order to protect young girls.
But it has also emerged that lack of proper parenting, peer pressure and influence from social media has also contributed to this social decay.
Other stakeholders echoed the need to give the teenagers the right information and provide them protection.
“Let us not burry our heads in the sun as if nothing was happening. Let’s strike when the iron is hot, this is because some believe the current social quagmire we find ourselves in as a county and a country is occasioned by moral decadence in our society,” Ole Mayan, a resident added.
This explains increase in defilement and rape cases in the country. Harmful cultural practices should also continue to be discouraged and strong social protection structures enhanced for teenagers who find themselves in the family way, albeit to secure their future.