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How education for healthy well-being can reduce exacerbating teenage pregnancies

EDUCATION
By Gerard Nyele | June 30th 2021

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The Kenya government committed to ending teenage pregnancy by 2030 at the ICPD 25 and began mobilizing high-level intergovernmental committees to develop and implement proven solutions.

Some of the commitments made include upholding the rights of young girls to sexuality education and provision of sexual and reproductive health services including contraceptives, as enshrined in the Maputo Protocol, and several national laws, policies, and guidelines.

Sexuality education which is part of the life-skills curriculum must be age-appropriate, and evidence-based emphasizing both abstinence and safe sex practices including contraceptives information among those sexually active, and must continue even during the lockdown when unintended pregnancies are projected to rise. Age-appropriate sexuality education must cover topics such as sexual consent, safe sex negotiation, healthy relationships, sexual and gender-based violence, and reporting during the pandemic and beyond. The government in collaboration with relevant stakeholders should provide sessions for parents on how to address these topics with their children and to respond objectively to some of the misinformation and misconceptions around sexuality education.

Even though the Ministry of Health has developed guidelines on the continuity of reproductive, maternal, newborn, and family planning care and services, the guidelines do not explicitly address adolescents and young people. The Ministry needs to ensure that these sexual and reproductive health services are extended to adolescents and young people by clearly outlining this in the guidelines, and creating awareness among young populations on how and where to access such services.

Government demographic data from 2014, the latest available, show that 15 per cent of girls aged 15-19 had already given birth, and the other three per cent were pregnant with their first child – the highest rates in East Africa.

 The situation has been exacerbated by the emergence of the novel coronavirus disease. According to Jane Kamau from the Education for Health and Well-being NPO in the UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa,  “Though the Ministry of Education has put in place strategies to ensure continuity of education through distance online learning delivered through radio, television and the Internet, these strategies have further widened the inequality gap, as learners from poor, vulnerable, and marginalized households are unable to benefit from continued learning through these platforms due to lack of access.

Further, with the loss of livelihoods particularly in low-income households, some children may be forced into income-generating activities to support their families' survival. Also, school closure has stopped the provision of school meals and sanitary towels, which children from disadvantaged families rely on significantly. This raises the risks of young girls engaging in transactional sex to gain not only access to these essential needs but also to support their families.  There is evidence that links poverty, lack of family support, and transactional sex.

Jane notes the importance of education in reducing teenage pregnancies, “ It prepares children on how to transition ad manoeuvre teenage age phase. Traditionally, some communities knew that teenagers have a lot of energy, some tribes had activities to make sure that the young ones dispense this energy. In the modern age especially in urban areas, this is not even possible. With the fading cultural methods of sex education, parents, religious institutions and the government must ensure age-appropriate information is available to teenagers to sensitize them and curb the worrying tends” she explains.

To improve the quality and ensure a holistic approach, jane wants the ministry of education to work in partnership with the ministry of health and complement each other as teenage pregnancy has far-reaching impacts on heath just like education.

“The issue of sexuality is sometimes complex, you will find that a teacher may not feel very comfortable discussing the matter in school, the ministry of health whose experts understand the matter can organize outreach programs to guidance health and wellbeing of young people which includes mental health, drugs and substance abuse; The two ministries could complement each other on policy and implementation, Jane prompts.

Meanwhile, UNESCO has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Kenya’s National Council of Population and Development (NCPD), Plan International, and UN Women to implement a media campaign on ending teenage pregnancy and gender-based violence (GBV).

The implementation of the campaign will create awareness through multiple platforms of the underlying causes of teenage pregnancy and increased cases of GBV during the COVID-19n pandemic, and call upon identified target audiences to take action to promote behaviour and attitude change, as well as social transformation.

Messages will be placed on multiple media platforms to reach policymakers, service providers, parents, religious leaders, boys, girls, civil society, the private sector, the media, and other stakeholders. Television dramas, talk shows, virtual discussions, and social media engagements will be conducted to raise awareness of the need to end teenage pregnancy and GBV.

The 6.97 million Kenya Shillings campaign contributes to the UNESCO program on ending early and unintended pregnancy (EUP) being implemented across several African countries.

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