A 14-year-old girl with her baby at their home in Ndhiwa village Homa Bay County. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

Data from the National Syndemic Diseases Control Council (NSDCC) reveals that at least 15,000 schoolgirls have given birth and dropped out of school in Meru County this year alone. Moreover, some of these teenagers were diagnosed with human papillomavirus and cervical cancer as a result of premature sex. Last year, 270 girls aged between 10 and 14 years underwent cesarean delivery, probably because their bodies had not matured for the natural birth process.

These depressing statistics are not confined to Meru, they are a reflection of what is happening across the country. Last year, a report by the NSDCC showed that 41 per cent of all new HIV infections in Kenya occur among young people aged between 15 and 24 years. According to the data, about 3,244 new HIV infections occurred among youths aged between 10 and 19 years. 

These huge figures speak of moral decadence in society and the failure by parents, society and the government to protect young girls from sex predators who take advantage of situations to put the girls in the family way. This is unacceptable. What is society not doing right to raise a morally upright generation? The need for introspection to determine what went wrong, and where, cannot be gainsaid.

It is inescapable, however, that social inequalities and poverty predispose young girls from humble backgrounds to being taken undue advantage of. Many are forced into having sexual relationships in exchange for money and other things like sanitary towels. But while this is the truth, it is unacceptable. It behooves the government to enforce laws that protect women and girls. Doing so will give them the chance to concentrate on their studies with a view to improving their lot.

Given the growing numbers in teen pregnancies and school dropouts, it is easy to conclude that the government is doing nothing in this regard. If, however, there are strategies in place, then clearly, they are not working. The protection of young girls is an imperative that must be taken more seriously now. Adult men who impregnate young girls deserve tough penalties.