Kilifi parents blamed for increased teenage pregnancies

Kilifi County's Gender, Culture, Talent and Sports County Assembly Committee together with the county's gender officials during a sensitization workshop organised by KELIN in Mombasa County. [Marion Kithi, Standard]

It is believed that parents of underage girls have been extorting money and accepting favours from their daughters' lovers leading to an increase in teenage pregnancies.

County government officials have blamed the high number of teenage pregnancies on some parents 'selling' the young girls to those who can offer incentives such as money amid high poverty levels.

Gender and health officials said girls as young as 10 years are impregnated and left to suffer with the majority of them dropping out of school.

The latest report from the county health department says that 4,091 pregnancies among girls aged 10 to 18 were recorded in 2023 alone.

The data further reveals that 136 new HIV infections were recorded among teenage mothers during their first antenatal visits in 2022 and out of this, 66 of them died, as they refused to take Antiretroviral (ARVS) drugs due to stigma.

Chief officer for Gender, Culture and Social Services Ms Agneta Karembo, said many parents in Kilifi have abandoned their parental duties, and have made their girls a source of income by allowing them to have sex with their boyfriends for money to buy food for the entire family.

''We have a case we are following up right now. A girl who was on the verge of dropping out of school in form two due to lack of fees was helped by his bodaboda boyfriend by taking her back to school. He even bought her sanitary towels; he did all the shopping and on top, he has been buying food for her entire family and even paying school fees for the girl's brother and the parents were watching until the girl got pregnant,'' she said.

Speaking during the Kilifi county's Gender-Based Violence (GBV) policy sensitisation workshop organized by Kenya Legal Ethical Issues Network (KELIN) in Mombasa County, Ms Karembo said it was a shame for parents to give out their daughters to men for sex to earn a living.

She further said to some extent parents coach their daughters on how to get money from men so that they can beat poverty.

She noted that some parents encourage their daughters to get pregnant by married men so as to get money for child support.

She has however urged parents to be responsible by providing and teaching good morals to their children.

Parents have also been urged to venture into other ways of making money, including applying for Mbegu Fund loans and looking for bursaries to cater for school fees instead of using their daughters to get money.

''It's a crime to let your kids' rights to be violated. The children don't get the opportunity to be children. Let us allow our kids to be kids by providing, listening to them and guiding them,'' she said.

The GBV policy is set to be launched on November 25 this year at the beginning of 16 days of activism on gender.

According to stakeholders, the policy will help to reduce cases of early pregnancies and GBV by providing early GBV response and support budget allocation.

The stakeholders also noted that the policy cannot work alone without proper budget allocation, and having a legal framework guides other partners.

Most of the people who are violated do not know their rights because most of these cases have been culturally okay for so long. We have continued to normalize violence in marriages, so these policies will help us to streamline and break the long-standing myths in the society," said Karembo.

While Kilifi County has seen significant progress in strengthening girls and young women’s sexual and reproductive health, they remain vulnerable to child marriage, teenage pregnancy, gender-based violence and HIV infection.

KELIN provides technical and financial support to Kilifi County to implement the gender policy as well as advocating for rights to health.

Ms Dorcas Gitonga, Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) programme officer, said KELIN has been working in Kilifi for many years advocating for rights to health and has also supported the county in advocating and developing a reproductive health law.

At some point it was problematic so we challenged it in court and now we are working together with the county to re-draft it,” said Ms Gitonga.

''We are supporting the county in passing the GBV and gender policy. We have had a two days training with the Kilifi County assembly MCA's gender committee to sensitize them on the policies so that they are able to pass them, for the communities' benefit, '' she said.

She said their focus was to empower the community to be able to push for these laws themselves.

''We need to address the inequalities that prevent young women and girls from accessing SRHR, including HIV prevention, testing and treatment services. Policymakers need to focus on eliminating the inequalities that are fuelling teenage pregnancies, GBV and slowing progress against the HIV pandemic,'' she said.

Many leaders are also in agreement that early childhood pregnancies are caused by the failure of parents to take full responsibility, community values and evolution in life where children are attracted to money due to poverty.

It was also noted that in an environment where most families view sex as a taboo subject, parents were often in denial about their children being sexually active leading to early pregnancies.

Kilifi county assembly chairperson for Gender, Culture, Sports and Talent Ms Agness said as a committee their mandate was to involve residents before passing the GBV policy.

''We will visit all the seven sub-counties to hold barazas with the residents and be able to explain to them what is inside the GBV and gender policy; collect their views then pass the policy. We Will also include stakeholders like the youths, elderly, clergy and the kaya elders and also talk to our fellow MCAs,'' said Ms Sidi who Kayafungo MCA.

Ms Sidi noted that the majority of young women and girls lack the freedom to make decisions about their bodies without fear, violence or coercion including whether to have sex, use contraception, access health care or marry.

''Girls need strengthened protection services to prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based violence. They face legal and policy barriers, and social norms and behaviours that promote child marriage, stop girls from accessing the services they need to prevent child marriage, unintended pregnancy, gender-based violence and HIV transmission. Stigma and discrimination from health-care workers and girls’ families and communities, also increase their risk'' she said.

While authorities say a child’s early development largely depends on the involvement of both parents, some parents in Kilifi blame the increase in early child pregnancies on moral decadence in the society.

Parents who spoke to The Standard attributed the increasing teenage pregnancies to lack of awareness on the risk involved, a failure to uphold family values and a moral decadence.

"Young women no longer listen to their mothers. They think it is trendy to spend nights in bars and getting pregnant doesn’t scare them anymore because they dump the kids at their mother’s and go away," argued Ms Kadzo Karisa.

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