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How traditions are slowing down use of family planning methods

Reproductive Health

Contraceptives. [File, Standard]

At 29, Linnet Charo is already a mother of seven. Her last born is only eight months and Ms Charo is two months pregnant. Charo says her husband is against family planning, hence it is not something she can consider to control the size of her family.

Her story mirrors that of several women from the Mijikenda community whose husbands and extended families frown upon use of birth control methods due to traditional beliefs.

If a woman goes behind her husband's back to acquire family planning, it could earn her severe punishment or even divorce.

“Our traditions dictate that a woman is supposed to give birth until she stops naturally and not through family planning. Even the Bible says we should fill the earth. What is the essence of going against what is clearly stated?” posed Ezekiel Kaingu, 60, a father of 11.

The men we spoke to in Bamba, Magarini and Chakama said they had barred their wives from using contraceptives because of culture.

“My husband won’t let me use any birth control method. He says his grandmother did not use family planning. He has been against it since we got our firstborn,” said Charo.

According to Tsuma Nzai, a director and custodian of Mijikenda traditions at Magarini cultural centre, Mijikenda tradition does not support modern family planning methods.

“Modern family planning methods like coils are shunned in our community because they do not align with our beliefs,” Nzai said.

He noted that a woman’s nakedness is only supposed to be seen by her husband and only when giving birth.

Nzai said that castor seeds were the only means of family planning accepted. He said a woman should take two castor seeds per week after delivery till the baby is five months.

“This blocks the sperm from fertilising the eggs.”

Traditionally, when a woman gave birth, the husband paid more dowry.

Girls were regarded as a source of wealth - bridewealth and boys as family custodians.

“The more girls you have the wealthier you are,” said an elder.

“A person with one child is seen as someone with one eye,” said Charo wa Mae, a 70-year-old elder in Magarini.

These traditions are harmful to children since they are not breastfed exclusively as required. Most women stop breastfeeding their children as soon as they discover they are pregnant. This sometimes happens before barely six months after delivery.

United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef) and the World Vision have come up with a nutrition improvement programme as well as a health education programme (Niche), which includes awareness on family planning.

More than 1,700 women together with their partners have been registered for the programme.

The Niche project, which is being implemented with the help of the Kilifi county government, is being implemented through Community Health Volunteers.

According to Karisa Khombe, a community health volunteer, the project included men because they are the ones who stand in the way of their wives.

“We usually tell the men that use of family planning does not mean their wives will never give birth, but is meant to ensure spacing,” Khombe says. Khombe said some men have been convinced to discard the long-held traditions and beliefs on family planning.

Linet Nzomo, a nutritionist at Kilifi County, said it is important for women to embrace family planning because it will give them space for exclusive breastfeeding.

She said: “The weaning period is essential for children, so mothers should use family planning to get time to bond with their children and breastfeed exclusively for six months and continue until two years.”

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