Last year, I went to Kayole, Nairobi, to talk to teenagers about contraceptives. I found a group of girls, some already mothers while others were still students. One stood out; a Form Four student in one of the schools in Kayole.
The 16-year-old started engaging in sex when she was just 13 years. When I asked her whether she used condoms, she replied that her boyfriend, a university student, didn’t like them. From our conversation, I discovered that the girl had another partner. Her other boyfriend was a secondary school student. He too didn’t like condoms. The girl said she never demanded that they wear protection as she didn’t want to upset them.
The only way to keep herself from getting pregnant, she revealed, was by taking the monthly pills. She was emphatic that she could not abstain, and so did her friends.
Living in the slums make children vulnerable. Those from low-income homes even indulge in sex to get sanitary pads, food, and other items, but most teenagers engage in sex out of curiosity. Indeed, teenagers are not immune to sexual urges.
So, should we give them condoms or put the teenagers on family planning pills? I will go for the former. Let’s avail condoms to our teenagers. Teenagers are a mischievous lot. You won’t know when and where they have sex since they are in school most of the time, but they have a way of doing it at the end of the day. Most parents are not aware their children are sexually active and will dispute if you say so, but the reality is teenagers are having sex.
According to the National Syndemic Diseases Control Council when it comes to HIV prevalence, 95 people get infected with the virus every day, meaning four people are getting HIV in the country every hour. Most of these are teenagers who are having unsafe sex.
Half a million abortions are procured in Kenya every year, with 49 per cent of the pregnancies being unwanted. Teenage pregnancies are at an all-time high with most girls failing to finish their education.
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are still with us, with some like much-talked about ‘super gonorrhea’ being resistant to treatment. So, how can we tackle the triple threat; teenage pregnancies, HIV infections and STDs? Sex education will surely solve a big chunk of the problem.
Let’s have sex education as a syllabus in schools. But now that teenagers are more exposed than before, abstinence might not be the solution.
Let the teenagers be taught how to use female condoms and the boys taught how to wear condoms. Most of them are not taught by their parents. With sex education, we will kill the stigma of girls being afraid of buying condoms or carrying condoms.
As donor funds dwindle, the Ministry of Health should ensure Kenya doesn’t experience a condom shortage by setting aside funds to avail these commodities. Safe sex will go a long way in saving the country from diseases, deaths and expenses.
Ms Waliaula is a health and science journalist at Standard Group PLC