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Teenage reproductive health education still wanting as pregnancy cases rise

Health & Science

On Friday May 20, Mercy, 14, was found unconscious outside her grandma house in Chwele Town; she was also bleeding profusely from her birth canal.

Her guardian immediately rushed her to Chwele Sub-District Hospital after two days of complaints of headaches.

At the hospital, it was discovered that she had attempted an abortion which ended up incomplete.

Then her story of an alleged rape ordeal three months earlier came to the limelight with the teenager saying that she did not speak out because the 72 year-old alleged perpetrator – a distant relative - had threatened her with death if she dared reveal that he had defiled her.

About three months back in February, the alleged sexual predator  who has since been charged with defilement at the Bungoma Law Courts visited the family in Chwele and found that the girl’s grandmother had gone for a funeral. It is alleged he committed the crime as Mercy explains.

“We were busy cleaning the home with my two younger sisters when he came and asked where grandma was and we told him that she had gone for a burial at Sanandiki.

“He gave my two siblings Sh50 asking them to go to the shop and buy what they wanted; when they went he locked the door and told me if I screamed he would kill me and when I started to cry he held me by the throat tightly and I kept quiet since I was very afraid.

“He then ripped off my pants and forcefully entered me. When he finished he opened the door but before he left he gave me two tablets saying that if my stomach started swelling I should swallow the tablets.

“He then left me with a stern warning that if the word leaked then he will personally kill me. When grandma came back, I just kept quiet out of fear and I swallowed the tablets in May when I missed my periods.”

Two days of intense agony would lead to a bout of continuous blood loss before Mercy was taken to hospital to find out what the problem could be.

After examination, the doctor’s report dated May 20, 2016 stated that the result of the bleeding was an incomplete abortion which had to be evacuated. An age-assessment report stated that Mercy is 14 years old.

In the Kenya Police Medical Examination Request form (P3) by Chwele OCS to Chwele Sub-District Hospital, the date of alleged defilement is noted as February 12, 2016. The request states in part: She claims to have been defiled by a well-known person to her and was pregnant of unknown month which she aborted. Examine her for further action. The nature of offence in the form was stated as ‘defilement’.

Our attempts to see the occurrence book at the Chwele Police Station were thwarted by the deputy OCS, OCS and OCPD who claimed that the book is a private document that cannot be shown to anybody. On further prodding, the OCPD called and informed us that the case was reported and that the suspect was arrested on May 25 and presented in court on May 26, and entered a ‘not guilty’ plea. The court case number according to the OCPD is 1322/2016.

“He was then issued with a bond of Sh100,000,” said Mwenje.

However, in a surprise turn of events, Mercy’s grandmother was summoned by the OCPD on May 31, 2016 and asked to take blood samples for testing. What is worrying the guardian is being asked to take samples of blood to the police.

 “I do not know why I am being asked to take samples or what samples are needed and why yet the case is already in court,” she says.

Also raising eyebrows is the fact that the case was brought before the court in Bungoma, neither the Mercy nor her guardian was aware that the case was being prosecuted until the media started following up the story that they were accompanied to court by Sarah Munoko, a community activist based in Chwele.

But women rights organization has taken over the case and will be representing the girl when the case comes for hearing on August 23, 2016 in Bungoma.

While Mercy's case is criminal in nature, it once again raises the question of sexuality education among young people. What if she knew what to do after a rape like reporting the case as well as seeking medical attention immediately?

The Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2014 shows that four out ten girls below the age of 19 have had their sexual debut. This leaves Kenya at a crossroads with an intricate balancing act between ensuring morality, taming teenage pregnancies and the use of contraception among the youth.

Late last month, in a high-level press briefing by Health Cabinet Secretary Dr Cleopa Mailu; Melinda Gates of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; UNFPA executive director, Dr Babatunde Osotimehin; and Margaret Bolaji, the vice president of the UNFPA Youth Advisory Group, it was stressed the need to scale education and uptake of contraceptive services if the country wanted to move forward.

Dr Mailu noted, "Creating demand and meeting the demand created comes with investment as well as involvement of men in the debate around sexuality will help in family planning."

While ensuring government commitment, Dr Mailu said the government will do what it takes to ensure sustainability of the project.

KDHS 2014 notes that a significant number of men believe that family planning is a woman's business.

Mrs Gates on the other hand stated that all lives are equal and family planning is one of the ways through which women and girls will unlock their potential. In 2012, she spearheaded the London Summit on Family Planning which undertook to deliver contraception services to an additional 120 million women around the world through the FP2020 – a global movement that supports rights of women and girls to decide the number of children they would like to have and when.

KDHS 2014 records that, the unmet need for family planning in Kenya has dropped from 26 per cent to 18 per cent from the KDHS 2008-2009. Mrs Gates has urged the use of data for to plan for family planning services.

More than half of women in Kenya are currently taking up family planning services. At 58 per cent. Despite being the average, Dr Osotimehin says that there are variations with areas like Mandera having low uptake of planning services.

"With Kenyan demographics showing that seven out pf ten are below the age of 35, there is need to ensure that there is uniformity; girls must go to school and stay in school to reach their full potential and this cannot be achieved without comprehensive sexuality education as well as access to services," said Dr Osotimehin.

He also underscores the need for male involvement in family planning as a key way of ensuring that people get the services.

Ms Bolaji stresses the point by stating that ensuring young people must be involved through education about their sexuality from an early age so that it does not shock them as they grow older.

Reproductive health rights organisations took the government to court over the suspension of abortion guidelines thus, they argue, leaving the field open for dangerous clandestine abortions.

Centre for Reproductive Health (CRR)’s Evelyne Opondo argues that the suspension of the guidelines has caused suffering to thousands of women and girls who could have otherwise accessed safe reproductive health services.

“Take a case like Mercy’s and imagine if she had access to these services legally, she would not have had to undergo the pain she had to endure because first of all she even had no idea that she was pregnant and what the drugs were for which means she had no sexual and reproductive health education, to know what to do after her ordeal,” she says. 

Just recently, a school in Elgeyo Marakwet County expelled eight girls from school after they got pregnant only aggravating an already worrying situation. While the back and forth continues, more young girls and women find themselves in a fix.

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