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A second chance: The transformative power of education for teen mothers

 A second chance: The transformative power of education for teen mothers (Photo: iStock)

Teenage pregnancies have been prevalent in Kenya with the situation being exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2023, a total of 110,821 pregnancies were recorded among adolescents aged between the ages of 10 to 19 in the first five months of the year.

Data from the Kenya Health Information Systems shows from the 110,821 pregnancies, a total of 6,110 were among adolescents aged between 10 to 14 years while another 104,711 were between the ages of 15 and 19.

While we would want to wish the problem away, we cannot bury our heads in the sand and pretend that the problem will resolve itself. It is paramount that a sustainable solution is found, and teenage motherhood is not the end of the world for young girls.

We must bear in mind that in most circumstances, teenage pregnancies are because of sexual gender-based violence (SGBV) and/or transactional sex, and not necessarily consensual sex. Denying girls re-entry to school after pregnancy is setting them up for failure. Education is said to be the key to success, therefore denying teenage mothers access to education will leave them revolving in the vicious cycle of poverty.

While girls are judged harshly and punished for falling pregnant, their male counterparts, who are sometimes responsible for their pregnancies, get to move on with their lives uninterrupted.  in a state that they needed their male counterparts to be in. 

Having appreciated the increased rate of pregnancies, the Ministry of Education in Kenya developed National Guidelines for School Re-Entry in Early Learning and Basic Education 2020, to ensure that teenage mothers can attend school pre-delivery and post-delivery. Despite the policies, it is saddening that girls are still denied the opportunity to get an education which is their right, and more so that such denial is perpetuated by leaders who should be protecting this right.

Being a teenage mother places a young girl in an uncertain space as she is a child going through adult experiences. She needs protection, guidance and understanding to go through her new phase of life. Other than having to deal with her new responsibilities, often teenage mothers have to condone ridicule and social stigma which leaves them hopeless with little hope of a happy and fulfilling future.  Education is key to unlocking opportunities and creating a brighter future for her and her child.

When a girl is allowed back to school, she can break the cycle of poverty especially if she comes from an informal settlement. With an education, she is bound to gain employable skills that will see her become economically empowered.   

Further, education for young mothers fosters a sense of empowerment, allowing young mothers to make informed decisions about their lives and those of their children. As they gain financial stability through education, they are better positioned to provide a secure and nurturing environment for their families.

There must be a collaborative effort by educational institutions, communities, and policymakers to implement programs that address the unique needs of young mothers, including childcare services, flexible schedules, and counselling support.

As a society, we should celebrate and champion the transformative power of education, ensuring that every teenage mother is afforded the chance to build a better tomorrow.

The author is an advocate of the High Court and a human rights and reproductive health advocacy expert.

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