By ELIJAH MAGAIWA
A teenage girl from my village in Kuria, Migori County, gave birth two weeks before sitting for the recently concluded KCSE exams. Her unplanned pregnancy during the COVID19 pandemic and her family’s dire financial situation forced her to get married during the pandemic.
She tried to attend classes while she was pregnant but dropped out shortly after. She said she could not handle the stigma and she felt like an outcast among peers and now former friends.
In the same period, a 14-year-old girl from the same region died shortly after childbirth. Though she had to get a last-minute caesarean, the ordeal of trying a natural birth took a toll on her young body and she succumbed a few days later.
A recent study conducted by Plan International last year revealed that at about 98% of pregnant girls were not in school and most of the pregnancies were unintended. Further, at least 45% of severe abortion complication were reported among adolescent girls.
UNICEF has warned against the increased number of child marriages. My home county of Migori was mentioned among hotspot counties in the country.
Article 53 (2) of the constitution 2010 states that a child’s best interest is of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child. Going by recent news reports, at least 21 girls gave birth before the exam period while others went into labor during exams.
In Migori County, Director of Education Elizabeth Otieno said out of the 29,787 candidates who wrote their exams, 108 were pregnant girls. This has shown need to protect our children this April holiday, to avoid more pregnancies and school drop outs due to child marriages
Governor Okoth Obado recently singled out Kuria and Nyatike as most vulnerable to teen pregnancies and child marriages when schools are closed. Which was welcomed at my home place. He acknowledged that is an issue that need to be addressed.
Nonetheless, youths should be given information on matters sexual and reproductive health. Article 35 (b) of the constitution gives them that right. Most of them are sexually active, they need to understand more on family planning and make informed decisions.
They need to be taught relevant life skills, and know their rights. This will help reduce early pregnancies, and more of our youths especially girls will complete their studies.
I am also pleading with our parents to create time with their children. Have comprehensive and healthy conversations, on sexual and reproductive health issues. Allow them to share their challenges and avoid judging them because they are still growing.
I also ask the County Government of Migori, public health office to create an educative training program for parents and educate them on the social changes and how to handle youths in the 2021 century.
The county government through the department of health, according to article 43 (3) of the constitution, should constantly supply sanitary pads to vulnerable girls with pads to protect them from adults, who takes advantage because of that, also help them start small projects like poultry keeping to generate cash.
The governor should take lead in ensuring implementation of the sexual and gender-based violence policy, which will help reduce cases of defilement. On the other hand, the existing youth friendly centers should be improved, employ counseling psychologists and peer providers whose role is to handle issues dealing with youths.
Women and girls are the spine of the economy. 60% of the population are women. If women are empowered, it means the entire society is on the right trajectory. This will be achieved if we engage and protect young girls age 12-19 from early pregnancies and child marriages
Mr Magaiwa is a NAYA Youth Advocate in Migori County