Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the Kenyan nation was shocked by the recent statistical data that projected the huge number of teenagers impregnated in a few month’s time. A new report shows that one in five girls aged between 15 and 19 in Kenya is either pregnant or has given birth already. The latest survey by the National Council on Population and Development revealed.
In Kenya, an estimated 47 percent of teens are already sexually active before the age of 18 which is the legal age of sexual consent.
In Machakos County alone,4000 girls were registered in and out of antenatal clinics between January and May 2020. These figures exclude the other 46 counties in Kenya in which the number of pregnancies could be in its thousands.
Since containment measures in Kenya were put in place, many school-going teenagers at home are under the care of their parents or guardians. This means they have more time in their hands to engage in various activities other than education. The big question is, why is the number of pregnancies overly increasing, and who is to blame?
The factors associated with teenage pregnancies in the country include; lower education level, peer pressure, lack of sex education, poor parental guidance, being orphaned, access to social media, poverty, and social environment-related factors including early marriages and sexual exploitation.
The huge figures of pregnant teenagers as of 2020, sparked a debate online with parents blaming each other and it showed that no one wanted to take accountability for the already existing problem. Factors that have risen the number of underage mothers in Kenya include;
Access to illicit content on social media
In as much, various social media platforms are perfect learning tools, many teens can easily be exposed to pornography and pedophiles who target unsuspecting teens and lure them to sexual gratification. A teen who has little to no knowledge of sex education is likely to give in to the sexual advances of their agemates or mature adults who communicate with them online.
Through the use of social media, these teens engage in sexual activity by the increased use of mobile phones and social media access, which can encourage them to be more sexually promiscuous because of “sexting” or access to pornographic content.
Out of online curiosity, they, therefore, engage in unprotected sex and fall into the trap of pregnancy at a very tender age.
Many teenage girls and boys are forced into sex unwillingly. Their innocence is often taken away sexually by those close to them mostly through rape, early marriages, and commercial sex exploitation, and this ‘trusted’ people can be a male relative, including biological fathers and stepfathers, teachers, and domestic workers.
Early marriages in remote areas of the country also lead to sexual abuse and teenage pregnancies since children involved are unable to give or withhold their consent from the perpetrators.
Teenagers who have been molested through sexual violence are often unaware that sexual exploitation is a form of abuse and some of them remain discrete of the matter because of stigma and rejection from those they choose to confide in.
Teenagers are the most sexually abused age group of women and any form of sexual abuse at this age is in mostly leads to unwanted pregnancies that put their education and dreams on hold. A few countries have implemented policies to ensure that girls are allowed and enabled to go back to school once they become mothers.
Older teenagers deeply trust their peers and are easily influenced to engage in sexual encounters as a way of matching up with the rest of their sexually active friends. Since the government has issued containment measures to curb the spread of the deadly coronavirus, many teenagers spend a lot of time together and they could easily experiment with each other sexually and fall victim to pregnancy.
Alternatively, a lot of teenagers choose to experiment with alcohol and drugs, either on their own or under peer pressure, that reduces their ability to regulate their impulses. This leads to unintended pregnancies under the influence of drugs and alcohol while hanging out with their peers without much knowledge of the consequences of their actions.
The girls who fall pregnant from peer pressure will likely drop out of school, limiting their opportunities for future employment and perpetuating the cycle of poverty.
Transactional sexual encounters are established when gifts, money, or services are given in exchange for sexual favors. Through this, a portion of the desperate teenager’s needs is met by providing sex. Factors like poverty, lack of parental care, and lack of income support from parents and guardians may lead innocent underage girls to be forced by circumstances to exchange sex for money and goods.
Teenage girls who are in dire need of basic items such as sanitary towels may form transactional relationships with influential men in their lives like teachers, neighbors, and also motorcycle drivers or petty traders, who seem able to provide for their basic needs of food and transport. Due to the nature of their sexual encounters, these girls become another pregnancy statistic in the country and they may risk suffering from sexually transmitted infections.
Absence Of Parental love and Guidance
Teenage girls are the most vulnerable to pregnancy if they have limited, time, love, and guidance from their parents or guardians. Many parents of today are busy managing and balancing their work life and with very busy schedules, they find it difficult to bond and spend ample amounts of time with their teen daughters. Lack of a stable family or home pushes the girls to look for security elsewhere and in turn, they get lured into relationships that have downgrading effects on their lives.
The consequence of non-existing parents is that their teenage daughters will not feel free to open up about their sexual decisions and consequences involving relationships and peers. More often, these teenagers are more likely to rely on their friends for such crucial decisions and thus end up getting misguided and misinformed by their peers or people who are sexually preying on them.
It is important for parents to spend time with their teenage daughters and monitor their daily activities through talks and guidance to prevent sexual abuse, peer pressure, and unintended pregnancies.
As a parent or guardian, having candid conversations with your teen about your values and your expectations makes it clear that you disapprove of sex prematurely will lessen the chances of teenage pregnancies.
Lack of sexual education
Lack of comprehensive sex education fails to ensure a healthy sexual and reproductive lives for adolescents. Sex education should include accurate information on a range of age-appropriate topics like fostering knowledge and attitudes, values, and skills to enable teenagers to develop a detailed understanding of sexual responsibility and safety.
Abstinence-only education does not affect the rates at which teenagers decide to have sex. Many African setups use abstinence as a teaching tool to prevent teens from engaging in sexual activities and the method is not sustainable or a preventative tool because there are many circumstances that lead to sex.
The downside of an abstinence-only form of education is that it limits teenagers the chance to learn about acceptable options other than abstinence. Comprehensive sexuality education is vital and should be made available to adolescents and youth so as to minimize the chances of teenage pregnancies and STDs.
In Kenya, conservative perceptions and values towards sex are normalized and adults are not open-minded to talking about sex or the idea of sex before marriage. This means that teenagers fail to get sexual education they need to make informed sexual choices.
Teenage girls who have gotten pregnant receive minimal support from their families and friends. This insensitive act is triggered by the huge amount of social stigma that they face when they get pregnant before marriage.
Because of the stigma, pregnant teenagers resort to abortion from the black market because abortion is illegal in Kenya, the girls seek unqualified abortion service providers, often with quack medics. The risk of an unsafe abortion is higher among this age group than any other because of constant embarrassment and stigma.
Teenagers who choose to keep their babies often face discrimination at the communities and health care facilities because of the moralistic views of people in their communities. Also, these medical facilities lack the services of psychosocial support, to meet the special emotional and physical needs of teen mothers.
Teenagers who have also encountered forms of sexual assault like rape often keep quiet and suffer in silence to avoid stigma and harsh judgment from those around them.Moral and emotional support is therefore important.