Contraceptives may have adverse effects when used too early. - Evewoman

Contraceptives may have adverse effects when used too early.

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"The body of a 10 year old can't handle contraceptives," says Edward. "As it is right now some women are having trouble handling the hormones." His observations are however those of a concerned parent. That notwithstanding, his sentiments are supported by Dr Ong'ech.

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"I would be very careful about using hormonal contraceptives on adolescents. They are simply too young. Adverse effects may result from such an experiment," he says.

Indeed, Kenyan law does not allow children – those below 18 years – to access contraceptives.

"It is only an adult who has the right to ask for contraception," Ong'ech says. "That is because, from what we understand currently, contraceptives are best used by adults."

Before 18, children are still growing and developing Ong'ech adds. "Adolescents are still growing – physiologically, morphologically and mentally," he says.

"They are still within an active phase, when several processes of growth are taking place, and so, introducing hormones into their systems at such a time may potentially affect this growth. It may lead to infertility or development of a disease."

At 18, Ong'ech believes, one has achieved a good amount of maturity, both in body and mind, to decide whether to use contraception or not.

Edward's greatest worry about allowing adolescents to use contraceptives is the possibility that contraception would upstage their focus.

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"Instead of thinking about school and who they want to become they will start worrying about which contraceptive is best for them and the side effects. Isn't that making them adults at such a young age?" he asks.

Edward believes that allowing use of contraception by adolescents would only serve to distract them from focusing on academics and growth.

"It is true; adolescents don't have the mental capacity to make contraception decisions," says Prof Philomena Ndambuki, a child psychologist at Kenyatta University. "They are immature and don't understand the dynamics."

Prof Ndambuki adds that young people need frequent pep talks on sexuality, growth and development. Edward agrees. "If we don't teach our children about sexuality then the media will and what they learn from the media is not representative of the truth," he says.

Prof Philomena says: "It is not wrong for young people to understand contraception. The message should however, be devoid of any suggestion that they should use them."

In allowing contraception among adolescents, Ong'ech fears that parents may inadvertently be increasing the chances of their teenagers contracting sexually transmitted diseases.

 "Other than condoms, all other contraception methods focus solely on preventing pregnancy. But even condoms are not 100 per cent effective in preventing sexually transmitted infections. That leaves these young people vulnerable," he says.

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