An endless debate was ignited in the country a few weeks ago after Machakos County announced that 4000 teen girls had been reported pregnant between January - March 2020.
Most Kenyans seemed to be caught off guard by the shuddering statistics of soaring teen pregnancies especially after President Uhuru Kenyatta closed schools over the Coronavirus pandemic.
A few weeks before the report was released, Education CS George Magoha decried a situation in Kibra where three Form 1 girls he personally knew had fallen pregnant since the nationwide closure of schools.
At the time, Prof. Magoha solely placed the blame on the girls’ parents saying that they had neglected their teens.
A bitter Education CS went on to state: “If you don't have the time to look after a child then perhaps you have no business producing children.”
Should Kenyans be shocked by the numbers?
While the numbers raised a furore both on and off social media, did the reality of teen pregnancies in Kenya dawn on the public just a little bit too late to a problem that has been there?
During one of the Covid-19 pressers, Ministry of Health Director General Patrick Amoth seemed to confirm the grim picture of teen pregnancies in Kenya after he mentioned that the numbers were not far-fetched.
“According to the Kenya developed Health sector survey 2019, 400, 000 teenagers get pregnant every year. So one county recording 4000 would also not be far-fetched," Dr Amoth stated.
Who is to blame for the soaring teen pregnancies in Kenya?
The conundrum in the room is who is to blame for teen pregnancies being witnessed in Kenya?
Pulselive.co.ke took a closer look at this gaping problem with the aim of starting an objective conversation on teen pregnancies.
As various stakeholders try to find the root of the problem, blame has been placed on parents, poverty, culture, government authorities and vaguely on moral decay.
The Role of Parents
Have parents abandoned their role of parenting in the 21st century and left it to teachers and house managers?
It’s quite peculiar to observe some parents as they demand re-opening of schools to ease the alleged burden their children have become during the prolonged recess.
Isn’t it embarrassing that parents feel their children are more safe in school than at home? Isn’t it first the sole duty of parents to be responsible for their children?
Parents have been accused of neglect, which is supported by statistics that show a high majority of teen girls who experience defilement are assaulted by a person known to them - a relative or family friend.
Shujaaz Inc has been conducting regular surveys on the subject of teen pregnancies and one of the reasons that has come up was poverty.
“There has been a rise in transactional sex. In a time when there is no money and people are going to sleep are hungry, girls are often left with no option but to have sex for food or pads or money,” a recent survey reported.
The Government efforts in taming teen pregnancy?
Long before Coronavirus, the government was fighting “Disco Matanga”. The cultural practice in parts of the Coastal region and Western Kenya has been blamed for teen pregnancies for years.
Local authorities in the regions had been given tough ultimatums to ensure that the “Disco Matanga” vigils do not translate to teen pregnancies in their jurisdictions.
Unfortunately, it is the same local authorities who - when called upon to decide what should be done to a grown man who impregnated a teen - ask for goats, child support or marriage.
In the end, most people turn to moral decay as the possible explanation for teen pregnancies and there have been arguments that access to the internet, early exposure to sex and oversexualized entertainment in media push teens to sexual experimentation and eventual early pregnancy.
What is the way forward apart from blame games?
For the country to tackle the teen pregnancies menace, which is clearly not going away any time soon, we need to consider taking some bold steps.
It is clear that the real cause of soaring teen pregnancies is a spectrum of well-analyzed circumstances which are surprisingly within our control.
We, however, seem to be sitting ducks when it comes to taking the actions that need to be taken to give teen girls a fair chance.
Global studies have shown that sex education and access to contraception are proven strategies to reduce the occurrence of teen pregnancies.
Is it time for the Ministry of Education to revise the sex education curriculum in the school syllabus? It is simply not enough to learn about male and female reproductive systems, sexual responsibility, consent, understanding gender-based violence and even self-defense should be prominent features in sex education.
Sex education should look beyond scary STDs, HIV/AIDS and actually empower teen girls and teen boys to make conscious decisions about their sexuality.
It may also be time to settle the age-old debate on whether teens should be given access to contraception. Science has made it excruciatingly simple to prevent a pregnancy even one in a teenager!
In the African culture, we’ve grown in a society where it’s seemingly a taboo for children and parents to engage in sex talk, however, is it time to change this?
I believe its time parents and children have real discussions about sex which can play a key part in stopping this menace.
We are living in an age where teens can access information on the internet at an early age and and it would be foolhardy for parents not to engage their children on sex matters.