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'Why we chose to put our girls on the pill'

 Joan Andeso and her daughter Mourine Achieng cuddles their young one at Elwesero in Kakamega county on May 18, 2023. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

Behind closed doors in rural Kakamega, tales of teenage pregnancies unfold, weaving a narrative of struggle, regret, and the urgent need for change.

Meet the courageous Gladys Wanjala (not her real name), who opens her home to us, cradling her teenage daughter’s eight-month-old baby.

Terry (not her real name) is a Form Four student at St Augustine Rosterman Secondary School. She was barely 16 when she gave birth and was in Form Three.

“When she gave birth, we discussed at length and I agreed to take care of the baby as she continues with her education.”

Wanjala, burdened with remorse, reflects on her decision not to heed the advice of a nurse friend, who had suggested introducing her daughter to family planning. With anguish etched on her face, she laments her daughter’s second pregnancy at the tender age of 17.

“I gave birth to her when I was 35 years old but at just 17, she is carrying a second pregnancy. I am now a grandmother at a relatively young age,” said Wanjala

Determined to break the cycle, Wanjala is left with no choice but to advocate for contraceptives once her daughter gives birth, hoping to shield her from the burden of a third unplanned pregnancy.

“Immediately she gives birth, which is anytime from today, I will have no option but to put her on family planning pills before she gets another pregnancy from a third man.”

At Bunge area, we met Mary Adhiambo, 50, a mother of nine children.  Her daughter, Mercyline (not her real name) got pregnant while in Class Eight aged 13. Her fellow candidate at Shisasari primary school was responsible.

Mercyline didn’t carry the pregnancy to full term after she had a miscarriage at six months.

“The nurse who took care of my daughter after the miscarriage advised me to consent so that she could be put on family planning, an idea I vehemently opposed. My daughter told me she would not engage herself in any relationship until after school,” says Adhiambo.

But as fate would have it, at Form Three, Mercyline got pregnant again and gave birth in July last year aged 16 forcing her to drop out of school.

“Immediately she gave birth, I consented that she be put on contraceptives to prevent another unplanned pregnancy. She is now on a five-year family planning method,” confided Adhiambo.

Mercyline told us that she was impregnated by a fellow student and that she fell into the trap due to peer pressure.

She said the student who impregnated her denied the pregnancy. “His mother knew we were dating since I used to spend much of my free time at my boyfriend’s home but she disowned me saying her son was young and could not have impregnated a girl.”

At Shimanyiro village, Miriam Awinja, revealed that her daughter asked her whether it was appropriate for her to start using contraceptives “but I was hesitate to say anything only to dismiss her idea later.”

Her fourth-born daughter was a Form Two student then at Ibinzo Secondary School in Lurambi Constituency.

She would later ask for a transfer to Shiduha Secondary School in Ikolomani sub-county and while at Form Four, she got pregnant and delivered in July last year after she managed to sit the 2021 KCSE exams.

“If only I listened to my daughter and allowed her to use contraceptives, she wouldn’t have gotten pregnant,” regrets Awinja adding that she has decided to put her other 12-year-old daughter on contraceptives.

She went on: “When you tell children today that sex is bad, they become curious and go to practice it. We have to be candid to tell them that sex is good but one has to wait for the right time but when push comes to shove, they should be allowed to use contraceptives to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancies,” said Awinja.

 Prescovias Nyarotso and her daughter Bathsheba Nafula cuddles their young one at Elwesero in Kakamega county on May 18, 2023. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

According to the Reproductive Health Policy, girls who have not attained the age of 18 years which the government recognises as the legal age one can consent for sex, should not be allowed to access contraceptives.

Janet Angote, the Kakamega County Health Reproductive Coordinator says the policy does not allow girls below the age of 18 years to use contraceptives and vows to ensure the rules and regulations spelt out in the policy are adhered to.

Angote argues that sexually active adolescent girls need the guidance of their parents to prevent unplanned pregnancies.

“If the parent consents to her daughter who is below 18 years to use contraceptives, we shall do that but after proper counseling. We however encourage abstinence by our girls until they reach the right age of engaging in sex,” said Ms Angote

Prof Janet Kasili, Kakamega County First Lady, who has launched an initiative to end teenage pregnancy in the county is in agreement with the reproductive health policy that teenage girls should not use contraceptives.

But she is of the view that only teenage girls who are sexually active ought to be considered.

“As a county, we shall abide by the policy but for sexually active teenagers who cannot abstain, let them be allowed to use family planning methods so long as a parent or guardian has consented to it,” said Kasili in an interview.

The policy says a health practitioner (clinician, nurse, or doctor) found to have put a teenager on family planning would be punished but it is mum on punishment for medical practitioners administering contraceptives to minors.

Kakamega reports about 12,900 teenage pregnancies annually and on average, about one in five (19 percent) of girls, aged 15-19 years (12.3 percent) in the county have begun giving birth according to Kenya Demographic Health Survey (KDHS) 2022 report.

The youngest girl to give birth in Kakamega County in 2022 was 13 years old.  Nationally, the KDHS report shows that 15 per cent of women aged between 15–19 years have ever been pregnant; 12 per cent have had a live birth, one per cent have had a pregnancy loss, and three per cent are currently pregnant.

In 2021, 558 young girls aged between 10-13 years got pregnant in Kakamega.

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