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Stakeholders call for action as teen pregnancies remain high

Eastern
 Policing, drug abuse and parental negligence partly to blame for teen pregnancies. [iStockphoto]

Meru County holds the unenviable position of recording the highest number of teen pregnancies in the country.

At Nyambene Sub County Hospital alone, out of 500 deliveries per month, teens account for 40 per cent, said the officer in charge Dr Githu Wachira.

“The youngest we have had in the recent past is a 12-year-old,” said Dr Wachira.

In the first five months of 2023, 110,821 pregnancies (24 per cent) were recorded among adolescents aged between 10 and 19 years. 

In Igembe North, out of 100 pregnant persons attended to at hospitals, 35.2 per cent were girls aged between 10 and 19. In Tigania West 39.6, Tigania Central 41.6, Igembe Central 37.1, Igembe South 26.5, Imenti Central 19.5, Imenti North 14.9, Imenti South 20.3, and 13.2 in Buuri East.

In 2022, the figure stood at 260,734, 316,187 in 2021 and 331,549 in 2020. 

“We are in a crisis. It is traumatising even to the nurses. Can you imagine delivering a 10-year-old? Last year, data from the Kenya Health Information System showed a total of 6,110 pregnancies were among adolescents aged between 10 to 14 years. This is not okay,” stated Denis Mbithi, the National Nurses Association of Kenya (NNAK) Vice President.

He said NNAK is positioning nurses to be advocates of policies, which are supporting mitigation of early and unwanted pregnancies, expanding access to family planning methods to young people, and advocating for prevention because of early pregnancies complications.

"The key drivers of the numerous teen pregnancies in Meru are drug abuse and economic issues. Culture is also a contributing factor, particularly one referred to as giciaro. This is an old brotherhood covenant, which is now wrongly used to protect perpetrators of teen pregnancies. These arrangements are done within the family, but the one who suffers is the child," he said.

Mbithi noted that nurses form the majority of the health workers in Kenya and, therefore, for any programme or intervention to work well, they must be involved.

Meru County Child and Adolescent Health Coordinator George Taitumu said the reduction in the number of teen pregnancies last years is the result of a multi-stakeholder intervention that brought together the health department, Njuri Ncheke elders, community-based organisations, boda boda operators saccos and school management reduced the figures for last year.

Taitumu and Nominated MP Dorothy Muthoni partly attributed the problem to culture, female genital mutilation, economic vulnerability, and social influence, among other factors.

“Some are in primary and secondary schools and other dropped out before they transitioned to high school. Most drop out in Grade Six,” Taitumu said.

He added that pregnancies and dropouts have been a trend in the Igembe region for years.

“In Igembe North, one factor which has contributed to teenage pregnancies is culture. Parents are not able to speak to young girls, so they are left to explore the world on their own. They are not able to get proper guidance from their parents”.

He intimated it was considered taboo for parents to talk to their daughters about issues to do with sex.

However, culprits who impregnate girls are seldom prosecuted as parents and perpetrators settle the matter themselves.  

Ms Muthoni added poverty may pressure teenagers towards risky sexual behaviour and ends up limiting access to education.

The MP cited dysfunctional families, peer pressure, and drought as among other factors that contribute to the problem.

The legislator recommended comprehensive before and after-school sex education to address the challenge.

“Empower teenagers with accurate information about sexuality, reproductive health and responsible decision-making regarding both abstinence and safe sex practices. Although sex education is taught in schools it is not enough to address the crisis that is before us,” she said.

Njuri Ncheke Supreme Council of Ameru Elders secretary general Josphat Murangiri said the rates were alarming.

He said policing, drug abuse and parental negligence were partly to blame.

“The parents are not close to their children. They are busy looking for money so the child is left to run her things alone,”Murangiri said.

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