Kilifi teen mothers find hope through breastfeeding initiative

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Two teenage mothers attending to their babies at one of the rescue centers in Kilifi County. [Robert Menza,Standard]

In the remotest village of Kilifi County, we find Emily (*not her real name) breastfeeding her baby.

Emily is barely 17 years old and has been forced to repeat Class Seven. She gave birth last year.

“I got pregnant when the pandemic had just started to bite and gave birth in June last year,” she narrates.

The father of her child is a fellow classmate who had initially married her as a second wife.

She says pupils made fun of her when she was pregnant and she could not withstand this.

Emily is not alone; we also meet another 17-year-old Carol*.

Carol is in Class Eight at the same primary school and wants to be a journalist. She gave birth this year.

The father of her child, who we are told has impregnated three other girls, is in Class Six. 

“I gave birth on the 23rd of July this year. At the moment, I am proceeding on well with education thanks to this place,” says Carol of the rescue centre that continues to assist them.

Prisca Juma*, Carol's mother, says things were tough back home when her daughter got pregnant.

“Her father does not want to see her and the grandchild, we even don’t stay together,” she said.

The two girls are among seven whose children are being assisted at a small centre.

The girls’ children are accommodated only during the day where the pupils come during break time to breastfeed their children and also get lunch. 

The well-wishers of the centre are two cyclists Esther Mali and Collins Wekesa who are alarmed with the high numbers of teen mothers.

 “We are cyclists and every time we cycled to these parts, we met with so many girls either pregnant or carrying babies. It touched us and that is why we looked for this house to assist them in our small ways,” said Ms Mali.

With their organisation, Wheels of Hope, they are trying to get more children who have given birth back to class.

“One of the major factors that have contributed to this influx is the issue of boda boda taxis where riders take advantage of the girls who are made vulnerable by poverty,” adds Collins Wekesa the Director Wheels of Hope. 

Kilifi County is among the leading counties on matters of teenage pregnancies with 3,500 cases having been reported last year alone.

It is not only primary school pupils who have been affected but also secondary school students.

Kesho Kenya is one of the organisations that is advocating for behavioral change in both boys and girls in secondary schools.

Working under the Shine Project that is funded by Integrity Action, the aim is to support integrity clubs in Kwale and Kilifi counties as a way of minimising teenage pregnancies among girls and drug menace among boys.

It was a Ministry of Education directive, in collaboration with Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, to set up integrity clubs in schools in the year 2013 but since that time, there has been a very slow uptake in schools regarding these clubs.

Costa Kalanda who is an Advocacy officer at Kesho Kenya says they have worked with schools since 2018 and have covered 152 schools.

Some of these schools include Ng’ombeni Girls Secondary which was earmarked as a centre of excellence. 

Previously, the school had four cases of teen pregnancy, but since the inception of integrity clubs according to the club patron and school principal, there have been no reported cases. 

“In our school, the integrity club has taken it up to first talk to the students every Mondays and Fridays. We have sessions where we give them like ten students to talk to other students on integrity issues,” says Peninah Mwangi who is the Principal.

According to Margaret Mwango a Form Three student and Carolyne Agona who is in Form Four, students with extra shopping usually leave some with the school so that those from poor families also benefit.

In this model, boys are also targeted. Lutsangani Secondary school, which lost its dormitory to a fire last year, is one of the beneficiaries.

Ms Esther Waigumo who is the club’s patron says the boy child has been neglected over time.

“Boys have this big void of being accepted. They face rejection back at home and when they come to school and imagine that when they do something that is contrary to the system, they will gain acceptance among students and learners. This has pushed them to go beyond,” she says.

Kesho Kenya now wants the Ministry of Education to oversee the implementation of the integrity club's directives if cases such as teenage pregnancies and other vices are to be vanquished.

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