How poverty, sexual exploitation disadvantage girls in Asal region

A beggar counts pieces of coins thrown in his hands. [Getty Images]

The long holidays are here; a blessing for children and a challenge for parents to keep them occupied and safe for the next two months.

Schools reopening may be a distant thought but the wise will make early preparations, for whether your loved ones are still in ECDE or in third level, be advised that your education bills will be much higher in the coming year. Already, estimates posted for secondary schools indicate 20 per cent fees increase next year with charges for day secondary schools being introduced that discards the commitment to provide free secondary school for the masses.

The failure to release last term’s capitation fees was a warning signal. The HELB money was finally issued when university students threatened to down tools and take to the streets. In fairness the government does prioritise education in the budget, this year allocating Sh597.2 billion to the sector at all levels, that is roughly 18.5 per cent of total government expenditure.

Despite its best efforts, however, many children are falling through the cracks and either getting a poor basic education or dropping out long before the required or desired time.

According to the UN, there are 24.4 million children under the age of 18 in Kenya, that represents roughly 45 per cent of the population. There are estimated to be 2.9 million in early education and a further 14.2 million in primary and secondary schools. But there are still millions who do not complete primary education and as a result are ill-equipped to fully participate in the changing times Kenya is experiencing,

The remote, neglected regions of the past still perform dismally in national exams and even with the advent of devolution they lack decent infrastructure in severely understaffed schools.

This and much more became evident in ongoing research conducted by Haki Yetu in the Arid and Semi-Arid Areas (ASAL) of Kwale and Kilifi counties. The national population is growing at an annual rate of 1.9 per cent but in Ganze, Bamba, Kinango and Samburu, the school enrollment figures have either remained stagnant or declined by up to 10 per cent in the last five years.

More worrying still is that according to Kilifi County current CIDP less than half of pupils in the county progress to Grade 1 from ECDE. In the sampled schools in the two counties an average 10 per cent of pupils drop out yearly and many schools record a daily average absenteeism rate of over 20 per cent.

It will come as no surprise then that the girl child features most notably in these alarming figures. While schools are reluctant or afraid to record accurate teenage pregnancy rates, the figures recorded at both health facilities and police stations are really disturbing, with up to 10 per cent of all teenage pregnancies recorded for girls under 14 years of age.

Yet, many such cases never get reported, or girls often inflate their ages beyond 19 – despite not possessing a national ID – to avoid further investigation. So, what goes on the record books is just the tip of the iceberg.

There is some hopeful news, however. The number of teenage pregnancies is reducing in Kwale. According to the MOH in Kwale it documented 11,251 cases in 2018 and 5,339 in 2022. However, less than 30 of these cases reached the criminal courts.

Devolved units have assisted significantly in promoting education by building ECDE centres and employing teachers. But in the sampled primary schools there was no evidence that CDF funds had been used to rehabilitate decaying structures or build new units.

There are over 2,000 teacher shortages in each of the two counties and understaffing by TSC means that impoverished parents are levied excessively to pay PTA teachers which in turn leads to more children dropping out. Free, compulsory and quality basic education was introduced by Mwai Kibaki two decades ago in what he hoped would be a game changer in development.

However, with the commercialisation and privatisation of education, most students in ASAL areas remain denied the opportunity to ever reach their potential and the country is all the poorer and more unequal. That is a crying shame.