Is the church standing in the way of reproductive health?

Is the church standing in the way of reproductive health?

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During the first COVID19 lockdown due to the high rate of pregnancy that was reported, I decided to hold talks with young people in my local church about sex and sexuality. 

However, the church leadership made it clear that I cannot engage Christian youth in such conversations as I would be encouraging them to engage into sex. 

Sex and Sexuality are delicate subjects to talk about in most Kenyan communities and churches. They have traditionally been taboo topics and one is often stigmatized as promoting immorality by merely raising the subject.

Young, unmarried people, especially young women, are not expected to be sexually active as pre-marital sex is condemned especially in Christian families. The church is very conservative and expects youths to abstain till marriage. But the reality is that young people are sexually active, with some even with multiple partners.

With the age of sexual debut as low as 9 years for girls and 12 years for boys, there has been a surge in reproductive health problems, including pregnancy, abortion, HIV infection and other sexually transmitted diseases and stress, which are of both policy and theological significance.

If a girl gets pregnant before marriage and she was a church member, she will most likely be dismissed/ blocked from going to that church again.

Does the Church realize its role in a complex socio-cultural situation? Many Churches do not try to offer any assistance or ethical guidelines to those who are unable to follow the strict Christian rules.

For example, the Church categorically condemns the use of condoms. What if the Church would educate unmarried youth who are unable to abstain from sex in how to use condoms?

Teenagers continue to die from botched abortions, perforated uteruses, or hemorrhages. Talks to youths are often focused on fear and immoral behaviors. The church needs to battle ignorance and reluctance about sexual reproductive health of adolescents and youths. 

Our constitution has set out grounds on sexual and reproductive health service and information provision but we have seen, many times, the Church trying to limit those grounds. 

The Church should take lead in putting the reality of youth sexuality into the public consciousness and onto the political agenda whilst condemning discrimination against adolescent girls. The church should also take positive action by initiating youth forums through which the reproductive health needs of adolescents might be addressed. 

Educating adolescents about sexual health and/or HIV/AIDS does not encourage them to increase sexual activity. I think it is time for the church to change their approach and equip youths with knowledge on sexual reproductive health, family planning, maternal child health, and HIV/AIDS and life skills to make wise decisions in life including choosing safe relationships, ensuring effective communication.

To demystify the myths and misconceptions on sex, sexuality and abortions and promote reproductive health the church needs Value Clarification and Attitudes Transformation (VCAT) training in how to talk to adolescents and youths about sex, pregnancy, childbirth, abortion and family planning, and not leaving the consequences hinder them from achieving their desires.  Otherwise resistance will continue making implementation of policies difficult.

The government and church should create awareness and sensitization programmes on benefits of SRH services and information to pave the way for cultural acceptance and hence use and access to SRH services by adolescent girls.

Ms. Kathia is reproductive health advocate at the Network for Adolescent and Youth of Africa (NAYA)