It’s imprudent to value exams more than pregnant girls’ lives


Teenage motherhood has been a subject of media debate for the past year especially in light of the increased teenage pregnancies during Covid-19. It is not just the high numbers that are of concern but also how these teenagers pick up their lives after delivery.

Of specific interest is that some of these mothers have to write their national examinations. Reports of teenagers sitting their examinations while in labour suggests how much we value academics at the expense of the lives of these girls.

The importance we attach on these examinations is so much that even the government has to go an extra mile to support such students to write their tests.

Reading media reports, one gets the impression that writing an examination while in labour is some sort of a heroic act.

However, we should reflect deeper as a society with morals on what exactly we aim to achieve by taking such girls through such hardship. As mothers tell about their labour experiences, carrying a pregnancy is no easy task in the first place. Of course, those who anticipate the labour are much more prepared physically, emotionally and psychologically to bear the challenges.

Other than teenagers who are married off as part of culture, most girls who end up as young mothers just wake up to find themselves pregnant. To them, exploratory adventures with boys just go awry. The experience of becoming mothers “out of the blue” if not managed well destroys the future of the teenager. Some lucky ones get counselling to regain their selves and carry on to be very successful in life.  When girls get to adolescence, just like boys, they experience a lot of anxiety. As their bodies change from childhood to young adulthood, several emotional and psychological changes come into play.

It is also at this period that they explore relationships with boys. But just as recognised by the law, the under 18 teenagers have not fully matured their decision-making faculties.

So when they become young mothers, many regret their expeditions yet they can do nothing to change the results.  Moreover, motherhood does not skip them into adulthood. They will still have to count their remaining teenage years as they transit.

There are three points to highlight.

First, making expectant girls to sit examinations is a point for reflection. Managing the process to motherhood is challenging enough. I do not know why such girls have to be subjected to the tests. Arguably, the burden they have should take precedence. The mental, physical and emotional health of the teenager should be directed towards understanding their new state of life.

Second, beginning motherhood at such a tender age means the girl has to be placed under support. She needs time beyond the usual three or four months maternity leave women are entitled to.It will help to have the girls take their time, each according to the level of support they have access to, before returning to school. Cases in which these girls are hurried back to school may, in the long term, be counterproductive.

Third, the Ministry of Education’s return-to-school policy should be strengthened and popularised to support young mothers. It should make it clear that teenage mothers are still children under the universal definition of a child. The policy should clearly promote a time off for the girls to regain their self-esteem and indicate ways in which re-entry into school should support them to jump-start their academics without feeling discriminated against.

Dr Mokua is executive director, Loyola Centre for Media and Communications

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