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Struggles of teen moms: Cast out by society & neglected by the government

Teenage mothers face various challenges, but the most pressing issue is healthcare access: Without IDs, they struggle to obtain medical care, and the prohibitive costs often impact not only them but also their children.

An AI-generated image of an African teenage mother carrying her baby (Source - hotpot.ai/art-generator)
  • Teen mothers like Jane and Mary struggle with healthcare access, family pressure, and lost educational opportunities
  • They call on the government to make healthcare services more accessible and provide comprehensive support for young mothers
  • The Mathare Children's Fund Panairobi (MCPF) supports teenage mothers facing pregnancy-related issues and societal rejection

In the bustling heart of Nairobi, the Mathare Children's Fund Panairobi (MCPF) is tackling a critical issue: teenage pregnancy.

This topic remains a pressing issue, compounded by stigma, limited access to healthcare, and societal rejection.

On the Day of the African Child, celebrated on June 16, 2024, we reflect on the unique challenges young mothers face in Kenya.

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Through the experiences of two teen mothers from MCPF, we gained insight into their struggles and aspirations.

Nineteen-year-old Jane* and seventeen-year-old Mary* (names changed for privacy) have both faced significant hurdles.

The primary challenge they face is accessing healthcare. Despite being essential, these services remain difficult to obtain for teen mothers.

Jane, whose child is now two years old, had the support of her mother, though other family members pressured her to abort.

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Losing her school scholarship, Jane had to abandon her dream of becoming a journalist. Now, she receives daycare support from the organisation and is training to be a beautician.

“When I first found out, I was confused. My mum was disappointed and told me nitafute vile nitajipanga… She was very hard. My stepdad cut me off till today. And my aunty wanted me to abort but I refused. It was hard," Jane said.

Mary’s experience was even more harrowing. At 17, she was expelled from her home and moved in with her teenage boyfriend, who also dropped out of school to support her. The now Cosmetology student emphasised the importance of male involvement, as her boyfriend's support has been crucial.

“Experience yangu vile nilikuwa na ball haikuwa rahisi. Babangu hakuniaccept kama mtoto wake so ilibidi nitoke kwetu niende nikae kwa akina boyfriend. Watu wa community pia were like huyu msichana ni mdodgo na ashajua mambo ya watu wakubwa. I felt guilty.

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“In the hospital niliambiwa lazima ukuwe 18 years and above ndio you access Linda Mama. It was not easy.,” Mary said.

They call on the government to make healthcare services more accessible and to provide comprehensive support, including education and financial aid. They also urge society to eliminate the stigma surrounding teen pregnancy, fostering an environment where young mothers can thrive without feeling like outcasts.

“Mtu akifanya mistake, kurudia ndio kosa. The community wanafaa kuwa polite kwetu… Wanafaa kungoja hiyo situation iishe, kama ni shule arudi, na kama alishamaliza atafute kazi ama a course afanye. Also, naeza ambia the hospitals and government should allow teen mothers to access health services bila hizo requirements mob ndio wasifeel ni kama hawafai,” added Mary.

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Sharon Awuor, Program Officer at MCPF, sheds light on the organisation’s efforts to support teen parents, the systemic gaps they face, and the policies needed to improve outcomes for young families.

MCPF assists girls aged 14 to 20, a crucial period for intervention to prevent school dropouts and ensure better futures.

Upon arrival, each girl undergoes an assessment to determine her needs, whether it be food, counseling, hygiene products, or educational support. Counseling is pivotal, as the teen moms’ mindset shapes the success of the program and their lives.

Many struggle with societal acceptance and face difficulties interacting with their mothers and peers due to their new roles as heads of households.

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Healthcare access is another significant challenge for teen mothers. Without IDs, they struggle to obtain medical care, and healthcare costs are often prohibitive. MCPF helps where possible, but systemic issues risk the health of the children.

Teen mothers are often harassed in healthcare settings and face bureaucratic obstacles, such as difficulties accessing the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) for their children, as minors themselves cannot extend their coverage to their newborns. Additionally, low-quality family planning products lead to repeat pregnancies.

Sharon emphasises the need for policy changes to support teen parents more effectively. Inclusive healthcare policies that recognise the unique needs of teen parents are essential.

She advises that acknowledging minors with children as having parental duties is crucial to address the systemic issues that rob children born to teens of access to quality healthcare.

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“We have had a case whereby a child is sick. The father is 18 years, the mother is `17 years and they both don’t have IDs. The child is sick and they need advanced care. So this baby is left out. They belong to their mother who is still a minor so the baby is not covered,” Sharon said.

Economic empowerment through training is another focus of MCPF. The organisation offers entrepreneurship courses to help young mothers achieve economic independence. However, without IDs, many teen parents cannot access formal job opportunities and are limited to menial jobs.

Support for teen dads is also crucial. Many teen fathers face societal pressures and lack guidance, often remaining anonymous due to fear. Sharon calls for mentorship and counseling programs for these young men to ensure they are not left behind.

Daycare centers play a vital role in enabling teen mothers to continue their education or pursue employment. In urban areas, where family support may be lacking, affordable and reliable daycare is essential for personal and professional growth.

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Reintegration with families is a key part of MCPF’s approach. Rebuilding trust and support structures between teen moms and their families is crucial for their well-being.

Michael Rottok, a human rights officer with the Kenya Human Rights Commission, underscored the significance of integrating human rights education into Kenya’s Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC).

This aims to empower children with a comprehensive understanding of their rights from a young age.

"Human rights as a discourse has been incorporated into the CBC to ensure that every child in Kenya will be educated on what their rights are, how to champion their rights, and what actions to take if their rights are abused," stated Rottok.

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Addressing the legal challenges faced by teen fathers, Rottok argued that prosecuting them for relationships with teen mothers constitutes discrimination unless there is evidence of abuse.

Rottok highlighted the need for a nuanced approach to teenage relationships and parenthood within the legal framework.

The discussion also touched on the contentious issue of family planning for young teenage girls, particularly the use of contraceptives.

Rottok noted that current Kenyan law prohibits discussing sexual relations with minors, thereby making the provision of contraceptives to them legally contradictory.

"The current state of our law is that you cannot talk about sexual relations for minors, and so discussing contraceptives is in contradiction with Kenyan law," Rottok explained.

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Furthermore, Rottok stressed the importance of treating teenage mothers with the same respect and access to basic rights as other mothers, advocating against stigmatisation.

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