Cynthia Baraza from Lugari, Kakamega county lost her mother when she was aged 13. Baraza, 24, then in class seven, dropped out of school and went to Nairobi to look for a job.
She had to take care of herself and her younger siblings back home.
Luckily, after a week of hustling, she secured a job as a house helper.
“When I secured the job, I thought all my problems would be over, but what I experienced at the hands of my employer was hell,” said Baraza while addressing over 2,000 delegates attending the ‘Mulembe Women Caucus’ leadership conference at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (Mmust).
“When the conditions became unbearable, I ran away and went to the streets to seek refuge and work on modalities of how to survive in the city.”
Baraza said that having nowhere to go, she was approached by a young man, who proposed to her for a hand in marriage and accepted the offer.
All she wanted, she confesses, was shelter and food.
“I fell pregnant and gave birth a few weeks before my 14th birthday. Unfortunately, the relationship didn’t work, and I moved out. I had saved some money, which enabled me to get a house in one of the slums. I was desperate and that is how I ended up getting two more children. At the age of 24, I already have three children aged 12, 11 and 9 years old,” said Baraza.
“When life became unbearable, I went back home and opted to go back to school and sat for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) after which I joined form one. I sat for my Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) and passed the exams. I hope to join college soon if I get a well-wisher.”
Harriet Chiggai, the Gender Advisor in the Office of the President, noted that Narok and Bungoma counties are leading when it comes to gender-based violence. She notes that Kakamega county has 40-60 per cent of teenagers who are pregnant or have already given birth.
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“A county with 60 per cent of its population with teenage pregnancies is a bad scenario. We must stand up, and condemn such vices and work on ways to stem the problem,” said Chiggai.
Prof Janet Kasili, Kakamega Governor Fernandes Baraza’s wife, who echoed Chiggai’s sentiments, said she has already initiated plans to ensure all the teen mothers return to school.
“A woman is the heart of society and must be protected and empowered. As we continue to advocate against gender-based violence that is strife in Kakamega, I commit to ensuring the 60 per cent of teenage girls who are either pregnant or have given birth, go back to school,” said Prof Kasili.
The latest data from the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) shows that national vulnerability for the girl-child stands at 14.9 per cent.
The KDHS data shows that Western Kenya has alarming rates above the national average, with Bungoma county recording 18.6 per cent girl child vulnerability followed by Busia at 18.3 per cent, Trans Nzoia at 17.8 per cent, Kakamega at 15.1 per cent and Vihiga County 7.7 per cent.
Nairobi county also recorded a significant percentage at 8.4 per cent.
Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi said the data was worrying. “The nation and the people of Western Kenya region, in particular, should be worried by this crisis. This is an eye-opener to society. When we are here discussing how to empower the women of Kenya, socially, economically and even politically, we must act fast,” he said, promising to cater for Baraza’s school fee.
Mudavadi said the strides the country had made towards HIV eradication have also been eroded.
According to National Syndemic Disease Control Council (NSDCC) 2022 report on HIV status in the country, there were 34,540 new HIV infections, of which 20, 505 (70 per cent) of the new cases were among women.