One in every ten girls in Kenya between 15 and 19 years is either pregnant or already a mother, making the country among those with the highest teenage pregnancy rates in sub-Saharan Africa.
Nairobi contributed 6.4 per cent followed by Kakamega, Narok, Meru, Bungoma, and Nakuru. Nationally 22 per cent of all first Antenatal were among adolescents aged 10 to 19 years.
These pregnancies are now associated with new HIV infections and sexually transmitted diseases. Adolescent pregnancy is also a hindrance to development as it impedes girls’ ability to contribute to national development.
Gender-based violence has also been linked with the high rate of teenage pregnancies and other psychosocial problems among adolescents.
The prevalence of teenage pregnancies currently stands at 18 per cent, with Nairobi County leading the pack, followed by Homabay, Kajiado, Mandera and Bomet.
Nine counties contributed to 56 per cent or 20,803 of the total teenage pregnancies among adolescents aged 10-14 years between January 2020 to September 2021.
Dr Ruth Masha, chief executive at National Aids Control Council says causes of teenage pregnancies are multifaceted, with major drivers being poverty, cultural and religious practices, parental negligence, and inadequate implementation of policies that protect children.
“It’s an issue of inequality,” she says. You will not find a teenage pregnant child in a home where they have, you are likely to find them in homes of those who do not have.”
The year 2018 recorded the highest number of teenage pregnancies in Kenya’s history at 427,135 cases.
Dr Ahmed Sheikh- Director The National Council for Population and Development (NCPD) says “the rate of teenage pregnancies has remained the same since 2018, with those with unmet contraception needs among adolescents standing at 23 per cent. The maternal mortality ratio is also twice as high in women aged 15 to 19 years compared to those between 20 and 30 years.”
Dr Masha says last year Kenya reported about 42,000 HIV infections and around 32,000 in 2021” meaning Kenya missed the target on HIV prevention yet we can’t end Aids in Kenya if we don’t talk about the young people.”
Adolescent pregnancies lead to gender-based violence with 20 per cent of women aged 15 to 64 years reporting cases of physical and sexual violence, according to Kenya Population-based HIV Impact Assessment, KENPHIA in 2018.
Teenage pregnancies are an indication that the rights of children are violated, which is contrary to the Constitution and thus “we should allow our girls to be girls and not mothers,” concludes Dr Masha.
Monthly trend analysis of the teenagers who sought antenatal care increased by 15 per cent from March 2021 for both adolescents aged 10 to 14 years and 15 to 19 years.