It's time for honest debate on teenage pregnancy

Pregnant teen. [iStockphoto]

Korogocho in Nairobi. From unsafe abortions, to early and unintended pregnancies. From substance and drug abuse, to heightened insecurity that has had a ripple effect on the alarming cases of sexual and gender-based violence. Shall we call this another vicious circle, taking us back to the pregnancy crises?

Standing as a true reflection of many other places across the country, “Koch,” as it is referred to, is a small but busy community where more than two thirds of residents have fully subscribed to “hand to mouth” way of life, as I found out during a recent visit.

“Chunga hizo simu!” says Mufasa, a teenager who dropped out of school to support his mother with the daily hustle. From our brief engagement, he convinces my friend and I to be careful with our phones because anytime from then, “they might change ownership.”

On asking what he and his peers were doing at the Korogocho dumpsite, unravels a story with a familiar end. He lives with his jobless mother and siblings. When even getting basic needs became a problem, he had to drop out of school to support his mother to fend for the family. 

Mufasa narrates how his 14-year-old sister fell for a fellow teenage from the neighbourhood in the same “business” of collecting and selling metals from the dumpsite.

He says his sister wanted to seek an abortion but did not have money and laments that if she had the right information—including on safe sex—maybe things would have been different for her and other girls in similar circumstances.

Imagine a world where every young girl’s potential is nurtured and fulfilled. Now open your eyes to the harsh truth: teenage pregnancy, a haunting reality facing Kenya’s young generation. Picture this, a girl, dreams in her eyes, navigating the unsteady waters of adolescence, only to be confronted with a reality she never imagined! Close your eyes and envision a future filled with endless possibilities as Kenya marches forward towards progress in managing the elephant among her teenagers.

According to statistics from Kenya Demographic of Health Survey 2022, the prevalence of teenage pregnancy remains alarming. Approximately 18 per cent of Kenyan adolescences aged 15-19 years have started childbearing. Additionally, the survey highlights that teenage pregnancy rates are often higher in rural than in urban areas.

Cases of teenage pregnancies are pegged on among many, transactional sex, irresponsible sexual behaviour, drug and substance abuse poor parenting and far worse limited access to adolescent and youth-friendly services.

Managing teenage pregnancy means calling a spade a spade. From religious institutions, to administrative offices, to community and national NGOs. We need to ensure access to affordable, accessible, and quality youth-friendly reproductive health services.

This means in addition to social behaviour change communication, we need to collaboratively provide family planning and contraceptive services, prenatal care services, along with counselling and support services for pregnant teenagers.

Promoting girls’ education and economic empowerment plays a pivotal role in managing this menace.

By empowering girls to make informed choices about their bodies and future, we can break the cycle of early pregnancies and poverty.

As parents, religious leaders, school heads and the community at large, we should not shy away from our teenagers getting the right information on their sexuality. Some teenagers take more interest in the mechanics of relationships than in solving algebra equations, and are involved in more “Netflix and chill” (social media slang for sexual activity) than we admit.

If teenagers can navigate the complex world of social media, they can handle a frank discussion about the complexity of sexuality. Let’s talk because after all, they have probably watched and Googled it!

-The writer is a youth advocate at the Reproductive Health Network Kenya