BY EVELYN ODHIAMBO AND PURITY NTHIANA
Teen pregnancies have risen in Kenya since COVID19 lockdown and movement restrictions that made it harder for girls to access sexual health information and services.
A quick trend analysis by the African Institute for Development Policy (AFIDEP) showed that Nairobi County was leading with 11,795 teenage pregnancies in the period of Jan-May 2020, slightly higher than the same period in 2019 where it was 11,410.
Closure of youth friendly facilities has disrupted peer to peer support mechanisms that were effective in ensuring adolescent and youth empowerment on sexual matters. This left many adolescents stranded with no information to help them make right and informed sexual choices for themselves. This in turn resulted in unsafe sex practice with increased sexual violations leading to unintended pregnancies.
Early pregnancies often threaten the education, health and well-being of girls. According to WHO early pregnancies are often accompanied by complications in pregnancy and child birth, which are a leading cause of deaths among girls 15-91 years globally.
The pandemic delayed response to growing sexual health crisis amongst adolescent, leading to approximately 152,000 Kenyan teenage girls who became pregnant and unaware of maternal health information or even how to access clinics for antenatal care. And now the question is what will happen to these pregnant girls?
What are some of the measures put in place to ensure they continue with their education? So far we have seen nothing beyond empty rhetoric. The burden of parents taking care of a pregnant teen is overwhelming and it has disproportionately affected those living in poverty.
Many parents lost their jobs during the pandemic, which means the girls will later turn to the same men for assistance in order to get access to food, money and in that case even contract HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Some may end up going for backstreet abortions resulting to long term complications and disabilities and may even die. Many pregnant teenagers after seeing their friends returning to school, get stressed and anxious of how their lives will turn out to be.
Will they continue with their education or will they be married off? What strategies has the government put in place to ensure that each and every girl gets back to school even when pregnant and after delivery? The mental health toll, on top of the other obvious healthcare needs, is just the tip of the iceberg.
With the pandemic now firmly in its second wave, how will schools effectively handle pregnant girls who may be affected by the pandemic or unfortunate to have contracted the virus? The lives of many of these girls are on the line as they try to balance both the pregnancies and stress cause by the pandemic.
Government should show deliberate effort to protect pregnant adolescent girls’ return to school and also ensuring those who have delivered have their safe spaces to continue their education. How do we expect pregnant adolescent girls, who cannot even afford to buy a mask learn under a tree? It’s time we did better for the future generation.
We must right the wrongs before we eat the coming generation and rob them of their future due to poor and bad governance. Progress towards Sustainable development goals shouldn’t just be on papers, but an actualized process for our entire nation.
Our girls belong and deserve better. Let us do better by standing and supporting their education and empowering them for a better future.
Ms Odhiambo is the youth coordinator at the Reproductive Health Network Kenya (RHNK)
Ms Nthiana is a youth advocate at the Network for Adolescent and Youth of Africa – Kenya (NAYA KENYA)