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Girls’ early sex debut hauls them into rough motherhood

By Jeckonia Otieno | September 3rd 2012

By Jeckonia Otieno

Loice Mwero. (Photo:Jeckonia Otieno/Standard)

Loice Mwero toils at the modest home of her elderly employer in Kinango township as her daughter follows her around, further sapping her strength.

Mwero, 17, had just completed Standard Five when she discovered she was pregnant after a brief relationship with her 18-year-old boyfriend who was a secondary school student.

With her pregnancy, continuing to the next class was shelved. And just like Mwero, many girls in Kinango in Kwale County find themselves in the same predicament often.

In this county, teen pregnancy is rife and those who fall pregnant are usually forced into marriage before they are ready.

That is the fate that befell Mwero who is blind in one eye.

Emotional problems

Although a common occurrence, early engagement in sex and teen pregnancy exposes girls to emotional, physical and psychological problems that put their lives and that of their babies at risk. It is obvious from this situation that the girls are having unprotected sex which puts them at risk of HIV infection.

“Medical complications could arise at birth because these girls have underdeveloped birth canals.  A pregnant teen is at a higher risk of uncontrolled bleeding after childbirth and vesicle-vaginal fistula,” says Kenyatta National Hospital head of obstetrics and gynaecology John Ong’ech.

Vesicle-vaginal fistula is a connection established between the bladder and the vagina that causes the patient to leak urine. Dr Ong’ech says early sexual debut and pregnancy is also likely to lead to psychosocial and emotional problems because the teenager is neither ready to handle the pregnancy nor the baby.

That she was not ready for motherhood is something Mwero discovered even before giving birth but she resigned to fate. 

“My ex-boyfriend and his parents met my uncle, who is my guardian. They decided to bribe the head teacher with Sh10,000 to allow him to stay in school while I stayed at home to give birth to the baby,” she recalls.

Unwelcome guest

Without many options, Mwero moved in with the boyfriend. As bad as it sounds, it was the only thing to do, she claims.

Had she defied her uncle, she would have been married off to an older man probably as a second or third wife — an idea that repulsed her.

Although her in-laws had promised to support her continue with her education, they did not honour this pledge. 

She concentrated on her pregnancy, attending prenatal clinics regularly at a local dispensary. But when time came to deliver, she gave birth at home.

In Kinango District, home deliveries are common.

Between July last year and June this year, 609 women delivered in hospital yet 1,291 had started prenatal clinic visits.

Soon Mwero realised she was an unwelcome guest in the home and she left her matrimonial home for Kinango town to look for a job. She got one as a house help where she earns Sh1,500 per month. This is how she supports herself and her daughter.

She says three of her friends aged 14, 15 and 17, got pregnant earlier on and dropped out of school. All got married to much older men.

Girls in marriages with older men are unable to assert their opinions and cannot negotiate for safer sex with their partners.

This puts them at risk of being infected with HIV. According to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2008/2009, men are more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviour than women which puts young married mothers at higher risk of contracting HIV among other STIs.

Worrying situation

Coast Provincial director of medical services Maurice Simiyu says young people are recklessly engaging in sex.

The fact that they consider HIV a preserve of ‘those’ people, makes the youth worry just about getting pregnant and not infection.

“There is a serious need for teen-friendly centres to give information on reproductive health since some families are ashamed of their pregnant daughters and don’t take them for prenatal care. We must reach them with services and this can only be through such centres,” says Dr Simiyu.

In Kwale, teenagers who become pregnant are quickly married off because they are an embarrassment to their families who also see them as quick sources of money in terms of dowry.

The good news is that there is some effort on the ground to change this situation.

It is Kinango sub-location assistant chief, Ruth Kwekwe’s, wish that girls are rescued from this cycle of hopelessness.

“I recently rescued a girl who had been married off to a Tanzanian medicine man and took her to Waa Boarding Primary School, which is a rescue centre for girls in distress,” says Kwekwe, celebrating her intervention.

Kwekwe says poverty is not the major problem but a culture that looks down upon women.

To these people, says Kwekwe, when a girl gets pregnant she becomes an outcast, valueless.

In fact, parents side with the boys or men who  impregnate their daughters, says  Fr Moses Erule of Kinango Catholic Parish.

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