Rosalia (not her real name) is a form four student from Kayole in Nairobi who has been using contraceptives for the last five years.
When we first met the 16-year-old girl, she looked naive but looks can be deceiving. One could not tell that she was exposed to contraceptives from when she was 11 years old.
“I had many boyfriends and to ensure I do not get pregnant, I started using contraceptives. I take the birth control pill every day at 9 pm when I go to sleep so that nobody knows that I normally take the pills,” said Wambui.
She added: “My boyfriends who are in college, are against the idea of using condoms on grounds that they don’t ‘feel sweet’ during a sexual encounter. We had to go for an HIV test first before embarking on having unprotected sex. Every weekend is when I normally have a sexual encounter with one or two of them.”
Rosalia said together with her friends, they normally go to take contraceptives commonly known as ‘Chaguo Langu’ on the 29th day of every month which can last them for 30 days.
At Kayole alone, we came face to face with at least 15 secondary school girls using contraceptives.
“We get the contraceptives from private dispensaries around and local Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) but when you go to a public hospital, they will turn you away on grounds that you are an underage girl, yet I am sexually active. The reproductive health policy is discriminatory to us, the reason we take the pills secretly,” said Rosemary, 15, a form two student.
Eunice Andika, 23, a youth peer provider from Reproductive Health Network Kenya (RHNK) said that they have a network of adolescents who they have put on contraceptives, after discovering that many girls were being turned away in public hospitals when they go to seek for family planning services.
“To avert a crisis of having many unplanned pregnancies that would have seen them become young mothers and drop out of school, we decided to educate them on the need of using contraceptives,” said Andika.
Rita Anindo, a psychologist working with RHNK said that the only challenge they get is harassment from the government for championing having the girls in the slums get unlimited access to contraceptives.
She said the girls are against getting parental consent before taking contraceptives and that only a few of them agree with the idea.
Dr Albert Ndwiga, the Family Planning Programme Manager at the Ministry of Health said a total of 10,835 teenagers aged between 10-14 years in the 2021/2022 financial year used modern family planning methods to prevent them from getting pregnant.
Dr Ndwiga said the data obtained from the Kenya District Health Information system (KDHIS) also revealed that the number of young girls who were using contraceptives aged between the age of 15-19 years was 443,471 and those aged between 20-24 years were 125,437.
According to the Reproductive Health Policy, girls who have not attained the age of 18 years, which the government recognises as the legal age one can consent for sex, should not be allowed to access contraceptives as a family planning method.
“We will not entertain seeing youths being given contraceptives since they have adverse effects on their young bodies. Imagine 10-14 years old girls are on family planning, how about those sexually active and are not using it,” said Dr Bashir Issak, head of the Family Health department at the Ministry of Health.
He added: “Disciplinary measures will be taken against any clinician, nurse or a doctor who will be found putting the young girls under 18 years on any family planning methods. They will be punished as the consequences are well known but they shall be given a fairing hearing first.”
Dr Bashir was speaking in Nairobi during a media briefing.
“If a young or adolescent girl is sexually active and is below 18 years, she needs to get parental consent for proper use of the method but we highly discourage them using contraceptives until they attain the legal age of 18 years,” said Bashir.
However, Health Reproductive Policy is mum on punishment for medical practitioners administering contraceptives to a minor.
To avert the crisis of unwanted pregnancies among sexually active teenagers, parents have taken the matter into their own hands and introduced their teenage girls to contraceptives.
“I have a 15-year-old girl and she is using an implant so that she doesn’t get pregnant for the second time. She gave birth to twins when she was 13 years old and I am taking care of them,” said Atieno (not her real name).
Ms Atieno, who hails from Navakholo in Kakamega County said that she never discussed sex with her daughters but when her first-born girl was impregnated by a boda boda rider, it was an eyeopener to introduce family planning even to the other three daughters who are still in school.
“When you tell children that sex is bad, they become curious and go to experiment. We have to be candid to tell them that sex is good until you reach the right age. When it gets worse, we have to tell them that they can use contraceptives to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancies,” said another woman from Kayole slums.
Data from the Performance Monitoring Action (PMA) for Kenya 2021 shows that majority of the teenagers are having sex. Six out of 10 adolescents in the country were driven by curiosity to have their first sexual encounter. From the findings, 60 per cent of the respondents were curious, 39 per cent reporting to have been carried away while 20 per cent of the sampled teenagers reported doing what is expected of them.
Sixteen per cent were forced to have sex against their will whereas the other 15 per cent were under influence of a substance like alcohol.
The study on the uptake of family planning in 11 counties collected data from 6,000 respondents the responses revealed that out of 10 adolescents in the country, four have had sex before age 18.
The report further found that 6 out of 10 adolescents (15 – 19 years) across the country did not use any birth control method during their last sexual intercourse and only 14 per cent are using modern contraceptives.
From the PMA data, four out of 10 adolescents were getting over-the-counter contraceptives from pharmacies, 24 per cent from dispensaries and 21 per cent from public health centres while the rest got from private facilities.
The PMA data was from 11 sample counties across the country namely: West Pokoto, Nairobi, Kakamega, Kilifi, Kiambu, Nandi, Siaya, Bungoma, Kericho, Kitui and Nyamira.
According to Kakamega County Health Reproductive Officer, Amelda Barasa the 2021 PMA data for Kakamega showed that a total of 558 young girls aged between 10-13 years got pregnant in 2021, while out of all the 474,000 pregnancies recorded in 2021, at least 25 per cent of the women were aged between 14-19 years.
National Council for Population and Development (NCPD) 2021 report reveals that one in every four girls in the country aged between 10-19 years was either pregnant or had given birth to a first child.
Glory Kathambi, a program officer at Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) Alliance Kenya, said the current Reproductive Health policy has divorced itself from reality by stating that an adolescent can only access contraceptives with the aid or consent of the parent, terming it as discriminative in nature.
“We have teenage mothers who are adolescents but have not attained the age of 18 years as the policy states, where does this young girl get contraceptives? I think as a country, we are moving away from reality, reporting high teenage pregnancies but speaking on restrictions on accessing contraceptives,” said Kathambi.
“We are running away from the fact that the young people are engaging in unsafe sex, the question should be how do we put in place policies to safeguard them.”