BY CYNTHIA AKOTH
Poverty remains one of the biggest obstacles to accessing reproductive health services and information for many women and girls. This is especially the case in many rural parts of Kenya, and especially now that the COVID19 pandemic has shut down many sources of income.
Unemployment, leading to inadequate income by parents, leaves the parents unable to provide for their children most of the basic needs such as clothing and food. The girl child is more affected because the parents may not even provide them with sanitary towels.
As a result, many youths find themselves at a vulnerable position to accept gifts from ‘sponsors’ who entice them with a promise to provide for them all that their parents could not.
This is dangerous because in return, these sponsors ask for sex eventually leading to contracting infections such as HIV and STIs. Unwanted pregnancy is also a common consequence.
Poverty also denies the youths the right to free and compulsory basic education, a right enshrined in Article 53b of the Kenyan Constitution. Yes, primary education is free as stated but some parents still could not afford to buy their children books, uniforms and other needed requirements.
It is through schools that the youth get first-hand information on issues dealing with reproductive health. Schools are also often the venues where most organized campaigns regarding reproductive health issues affecting the youths are mostly held. Therefore, inability to access education is equated to lack of information on reproductive health issues.
Poverty often forces adolescents and young people to engage in risky behaviors such as prostitution in an attempt to provide for themselves. This results in school dropout, unwanted/unintended pregnancies, contracting infections such as HIV and STIs eventually ruining their lives.
Due to poverty, many girls are forced into early marriages without enough information on reproductive health. This has led to many young girls giving birth at early ages which puts them at a risk of reproductive health complications such as excessive bleeding which can result in death.
I therefore recommend the Ministry of Health under the various County Health Committees to allocate enough funds to programmes that support reproductive health.
These will help facilitate activities such as outreach services held at various schools, and provision of sanitary towels to young girls to help achieve their goals and objectives.
The Health Ministry should also establish high quality, comprehensive and integrated youth-friendly reproductive health services. This will ensure youths are well informed on current trends of reproductive health such as family planning methods as well as the correct and consistent use of condoms.
Health services should be youth-friendly to ensure the youths are motivated, encouraged and gain self-confidence to promote their own reproductive health issues. The services should also be integrated to ensure that more than one service is provided under the same department.
Ms Akoth is a youth advocate at NAYA Kenya