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Teenage pregnancies go beyond morality

By Wanjiru Kamanda | July 3rd 2020

Globally, health systems have collapsed under the huge burden of high numbers of Covid-19 patients.

The challenge has been how to offer care to the sick and sadly in some countries how to dispose of the many dying daily from the virus.

Kenya has not been spared the effects of the virus. As at June 30, 2020, it had recorded a total of 6,673 positive cases, out of which 2,039 had recovered. Sadly, we have recorded 149 deaths by Wednesday.

Under the shadow of the pandemic, however, there has been an increase in cases of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) in the country.

But even as all this was happening, there seemed to be a missing link.

Did the government recognise that SGBV was a human rights issue and that the State had clear obligations, including the duties to prevent, promote and protect girls and women from SGBV? Was the government cognisant of its critical duty to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of SGBV?

While the State put in place measures to respond to SGBV, including sharing of the government toll-free number for reporting of SGBV, did the other actions by government, for example, the demolitions of homes in the dead of the night contribute to the protection of girls and women from SGBV or expose them to more risk?

Various sources are currently reporting an increase in the numbers of pregnant school girls. There are reports of close to 4,000 girls having been impregnated in Machakos County in a period of five months.

The genesis

There are similar reports in various parts of the country as well. A link to the increased cases of SGBV, including defilement of girls, can be easily made with the increased cases of teenage pregnancies.

The biggest question on everyone’s lips is who is to blame? The words ‘immorality’ and ‘indiscipline’ have been thrown around to explain the genesis of the said crisis.

In my opinion, the current issue brings to the fore our country’s failure to recognise that adolescents’ sexuality is a reproductive health rights issue and not merely an issue of morality.

Adolescents like other citizens have a right to health, including reproductive health. Article 43 (1) (a) of the Constitution provides that every person has the right to the highest attainable standard of health, which includes the right to health care services, including reproductive health care.

The Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for adolescents are therefore enshrined in the Constitution.

The enjoyment of this right by adolescents is however hindered by the country’s failure to approach the issue as a health right issue and instead of looking at it as a morality issue.

On several occasions, Education CS Prof George Magoha has blamed parents for the increased cases of teenage pregnancies. He, however, fails to highlight what actions the government has taken to fulfil its obligation of protecting and promoting adolescents’ SRHR.

This period

Has the government offered adolescents comprehensive sex education? Considering the extended duration that children are out of school due to Covid-19, has the government made efforts to upscale its interventions on sex education to adolescents?

Do adolescents have access to high quality, efficient and effective adolescent-friendly Sexual and Reproductive Health information and services in line with the National Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Policy, 2015?

What measures has the government put in place to protect children and adolescents from sexual predators during this period?

The government should not relegate its constitutional duty to protect and promote adolescents SRHR to parents. The latter have a role to play but the duty remains on the government, which is the duty bearer mandated to offer protection to the constitutional rights of all citizens.

While the country buries its head in the sand under the guise that sex among adolescents is an issue of immorality, the government does not have the privilege to do the same.

This is, therefore, a clarion call to the government to recognise that it has a duty to protect and promote adolescents SRHR, it has to leave the morality approach to religious institutions and face the issue of increased pregnancies among school-going girls as a matter of sexual and reproductive health rights, which it rightfully is.

Ms Kamanda is the Deputy Executive Director, FIDA-Kenya.

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