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Young mothers need support, sex education not ridicule

By Natasha Njenga | Oct 27th 2019 | 4 min read

Rising cases of teenage pregnancies have been linked to the country’s education system, poverty, lack of sensitisation and ignorance.

The many cases over the recent past have seen calls for curriculum review to gain momentum among stakeholders to curb the vice. There are those who feel that there is a need to teach teenagers on sexual reproductive health in schools

Statistics from United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) indicate that between June 2016 and July 2017, more than 378,000 adolescents in Kenya aged 10 to 19 got pregnant. These young girls are part of the four in every 10 women in Kenya aged between 15 and 49 who have unintended pregnancies.

According to findings by JIACTIVATE, a National Youth consortium, young mothers are sometimes mistreated in hospitals when they go for prenatal care compared to older women.

The bottom line is that young mothers are not at fault when it comes to teenage pregnancies and should not be made to feel guilty. In actual sense, some of these girls have either been sexually abused or have no access to information on how to deal with consequences.

Young mothers go through several difficulties, beginning with stress about the situation they are in. With little knowledge in parenting and no stable income, most young mothers find themselves desperate to provide even the most basic needs (healthcare, food and clothing) for themselves and their children. This comes with added challenges emanating from their parents, guardians or well-wishers they depend on to help them provide for their child(ren).

In addition, young mothers are at risk of contracting mental health illness, particularly postnatal depression. These can be caused by internal pressure resulting from feeling worthless, added economic challenges that come with the added responsibilities and being ashamed of being a young mother.

Moreover, young mothers especially school going teens face stereotypes and stigma associated with motherhood. Such may include breast milk leaking to the school attire, smelling milk, bleeding and other discomforts which, they have no control over.

Further, they are also at risk due to little or no knowledge about sexual reproductive health, rights and safety. Most young mothers fall pregnant as a result of this and are likely to be exposed to Sexually Transmitted Diseases. This, we see with the new HIV/Aids infection rates being prevalent in the ages below 24.

Throughout pregnancy and post-pregnancy, one requires a balanced diet. It goes without saying that we all do. Healthy balanced meals ensure that the young mothers can have sufficient milk production for their children, but these meals can be expensive for them especially when they have no income or support from their parents or guardians even more so when they don’t have sufficient milk supply. For other mothers living with HIV, breast milk may not be a meal for their young ones. They, therefore, need to get special milk for their young ones.

Support for young mothers

Young mothers can be supported and their lives can be made better by family members and guardians who play a huge role in the lives of teenagers and young adults. Instead of excommunicating or punishing young people for being pregnant, they should be counselled and guided in taking care of their young ones and facilitated with a healthy lifestyle. Parents should also take an extra step to speak to their daughters about sex to avoid reciprocation.

Schools are also very critical in the embitterment of the lives of young mothers. They should give young mothers the opportunity to complete their education and help them forge ahead despite their past.  They should not allow other students to bully or discriminate against them. Schools should have special sessions where all students are taught and sensitised about sexuality.

Health experts and society also be a party to this and play a huge role in ensuring young mothers adapt to their new responsibilities as well as advance their careers/education naturally and seamlessly. With less discrimination and more educational information, young mothers can thrive and get back their feet.

Finally, for us to close the loop and ensure that young mothers are cared for, the Government needs to cater for young mothers who do not have means to take care of themselves and their young ones. This translates to getting youth sentiments, analyzing them and creating a plan to help teens and young adults not to go through unplanned pregnancies.

A change in the curriculum that will be Age Appropriate to address the causes and effects of teenage pregnancies remains the best way to fight unintended pregnancies among teens and young adults.

The writer is a member of the JIACTIVATE movement.

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