May 28, 2019
Violet passes by our door at 7 o’clock in the morning carrying a bunch of firewood on her head and a 6 month old baby tied on her back with a ‘lesso’ and a bag on her shoulders. Violet is fifteen years old, I knew her when she was eight years old, then she was schooling at a primary school adjacent to our home. Eight years later I have graduated from college and Violet is already a mother; a teen or child mother. On this particular morning she is going to the river a kilometer and half a way to brew local alcohol ‘chang’a, which she would later sell and get an income. We exchange greetings and I let her pass by, later I pay their family a visit. Violets’ mother is single she brews and sells ‘chang’a’ too; she stays in a two roomed house with two of her other children; the house also acts as a drinking den. She ushers me to have a sit. I gladly oblige, keeping in mind the purpose of my visit. Having worked in the Social Services Department it’s not hard for me to state the reason for my visit. I apologize for intruding their privacy. I am aware Violet dropped out of school a year ago due to her pregnancy. And my other reason for visiting them is to draw attention on the two of her other siblings who stay at home to baby sit Violets’ son and miss out on school occasionally. I intend to handle this issues head on and take legal action where possible. I ask her mom “When will the cycle of poverty end in your house?” She looks surprised, and asks “what do you mean by cycle of poverty?” I explain to her what this means using her family as a case study. Violets motherhood has denied her a chance to pursue her education and ultimately excel in life and likewise denying her siblings a chance to go to school and excel in their education. This gets to her and she breaks down. I take one of the sit covers and give her to wipe her tears. After an hours discussions, she agrees to be assisting Violet with the child so that the other siblings can go to school and to pay polytechnic fees for her to learn tailoring. 500metres from Violets’ home is Mama Yusufs’ house; three of her daughters are teenage mothers, two of them dropped out of school a year before graduating from high school ; the third one got impregnated at the age of 12 a year before graduating from primary school. Martha the eldest makes my hair. I interact with her often; she tells me she will go back to school, when she saves up enough money. Mama Yusuf shares with me her fears about her youngest daughter falling in the same predicament as her sisters. Their father says he can’t take them back to school because they wasted his money and time by getting pregnant while still in school. Weeks later I visit my family friend who breaks the silence and opens up to me that the 8 month old baby she is raising is her daughters’ son; a 17 year old who gave birth while still in high school a year ago. Luckily for her, her mother took her back to school immediately after she gave birth allowing her to sit for her exams. These cases are not isolated for they resonate with that of many other girls in statistics. I have constantly asked myself who is stealing our girls’ childhood? Worldwide 7.3 million of the births are by girls between the age of 15 and 19 years of which 2 million births of this are by girls under the age of 15 years. Of the 2 million births 90% of them are already in marriage revealing that girls are being married off at a tender age. Kenya contributes to this percentage in large numbers; of adolescent pregnancies by having 103 in every 100 pregnancies being attributed to girls between 15 and 19. In Western Kenya 17% of adolescents have children. Early motherhood impacts include staggering depression, isolation, stigma even death, 700 adolescents in developing countries die each year from complication during pregnancy and child birth. This is According to an Analysis by the Kenya Population Situation Analysis and Kenya Demographic Health Survey. Teenage pregnancy poses threats to both the health of the mother and child and ultimately narrows the girls’ opportunities in life. Girls who get pregnant at a tender age miss out on living productive lives. This paints a grim picture of young girls becoming mothers at a tender age. I clearly understand this due to the nature of my work. This is attributed to disparities in income and education among the households, sexual abuse and weakened health systems in Kenya as major factors leading to early pregnancies. Policy makers and stakeholders are not doing enough. Our society needs to appreciate the importance of empowering girls and women in Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights. In a recent training I attended on Sexual Health and Reproductive Rights, my fellow trainees who work in Coastal Kenya, Shirley from Young Women Christian Association and Dora who works with Girls Pride are equally developing lean curriculum to share with schools in their respective counties, as we interact, we realize teenage pregnancy not only affects rural teenagers but their urban counterparts as well and its preventing a lot of girls from their reaching their potential. Most parents don’t educate girls who are out of school due pregnancy. Recent media reports highlight teenage pregnancy on the rise in school going children, and in some cases teachers are responsible and others defiled by close relatives. The question all policy makers and stakeholders in education and health sector should ask is what measures could possibly be taken to tame this monster that is stealing the childhood of our girls. How lenient are we in allowing girls to use contraceptives and how often do we discuss sexuality with our girls or discuss safe abortions or even take legal action against child defilers? The burden of motherhood in childhood is too huge the girls can’t take care of their own needs, so how about the child they give birth to? In Kenya the issue of Sexuality Education and use of contraceptives, safe abortions are debatable; first because of religion and second because of culture where Kenya has a strict moral code. Although abortion has been legalized where the health of the mother is it at risk very few women and girls can access the service. And some doctors are penalized if they carry out abortions, this is largely done in secrecy and crudely placing the lives of the victim in danger. There is also limited access to Adolescent and Youth friendly health services. The picture is not as grim as it looks because Women legislators are pushing for a bill that can allow girls access to Sexual Reproductive Health Information and use contraceptives and other methods of family planning. Part of my Organizations’ program is advocating for Comprehensive Sexuality Education in the Kenyan School curriculum; with a focus on behavioral change. We teach young girls how to negotiate from uncomfortable situations, delayed sexual debut and delayed child bearing. We focus on creating messages that target adolescents in order to contribute to positive outcomes such as increased knowledge on Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights among teens, and increased use of available health services whilst emphasizing on the importance of staying in school. We also organize forums where teen mothers narrate their stories and share experiences including how they balance school work and motherhood. I strongly believe on imposing tough penalties on teachers found guilty and schools expelling teen mothers; Secondly, Education and Health stakeholders need to develop a curriculum on comprehensive sexuality education and increase youth and adolescent friendly health services where girls can access information freely without being criticized. Most schools are now embracing mentor-ship and Sexuality Education as means of saving their girls, sharing information on HIV/AIDS other STIs and Gender Based Violence but this is not enough.We should give girls a chance by not only sending them to school but also addressing issues they face as they transition from childhood into adulthood. Kenyan girls who are relatively poor or have little education are predisposed to enter into early marriages earlier than their better off counterparts leading to poorer households having more children than wealthy families. As a community champion, I have personally guided Violet and six other girls in the same situation. Within the one month I interacted with them. Martha now saves weekly from her daily wage after braiding peoples hair, Violet has enrolled for a tailoring course. The future of our children is in our hands; we can save our girls from becoming teenage mothers and prevent children from raising children.