It’s been a while since we had a serious national dialogue about adolescent and adult sexuality. Teenage pregnancies among our KCPE candidates, the arrest of unlicensed doctor and alleged serial rapist Mugo and the ban on Marie Stopes Kenya just tipped our private thoughts into the public.
Let’s be honest, sexuality discussions make most of us uneasy. Add adolescence to this and many of us just become very uncomfortable. Our discomfort may suggest the subject is obscure and most Kenyans don’t have much experience in it. The facts speak very differently.
Hundreds of candidates sat their KCPE exams while pregnant this year. There is probably no better excuse than the one used by twenty girls to say they cannot sit exam because they needed to safely deliver their baby. Tragically, comprehensive sex education was neither on their curriculum nor an examination paper before them.
Every day on average, over 1,000 girls between the age of 10 and 19 have unprotected sex and fall pregnant, 35 drop out of school and one dies in pregnancy related complications. A total of 1,200 abortions are performed on women and girls each day of the year. About a third of them take place to save the lives of mothers. Forty-five per cent of these abortions will occur in the lives of girls between the age of 10 and 19.
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Regardless of what we think about abortion, we must first recognise what is happening in our nation. Denial that there is an absence of comprehensive sex education and a demand for safe abortion services in the face of such statistics is a form of simulated insanity. Not yet convinced?
Look beyond the horror of investigative stories about the unlicensed clinic of James Mugo Ndichu alias Mugo wa Wairimu to the admission by the County Government of Nairobi. Nearly one third of Nairobi’s 2,400 clinics are unlicensed, according to them. Many of them I suspect, provide unsafe abortions by unqualified or unlicensed doctors.
Which brings me to the ban imposed on Marie Stopes International Kenya. Following complaints by the Kenya Film Classification Board and GoCitizen, the Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board issued seven orders against our largest and oldest sexual, reproductive health and family planning organisation. The November 11 orders instruct them to shut down all public sex information and abortion-related services. The Health Ministry Director of Medical Services has subsequently warned Marie Stopes that must comply or have all their programs shut down. GoCitizen are now seeking the prosecution of Marie Stopes directors.
The order to cease all abortion services is patently illegal. The Medical Board’s ruling does not overturn the constitutional right of women to abortion where the pregnancy poses a danger to their lives, mental and social well-being or results from rape, defilement or incest. Their orders could also lead to legal suits against doctors who are now too intimidated to provide lawful emergency abortion services. Given the reality facing most girls and women, the cost of letting this ruling go is simply too high. It will I hope, be challenged in court.
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This year, Amnesty invited 280 students to write essays on irresponsible sexual behavior. National Human Rights Essay Competition winner Scholastica Justine Ajode, 17, put it best: “The government, parents and teachers must end irresponsible sexual behavior. The government should introduce compulsory life skills and sex education. Parents should talk about irresponsible sexual behavior. Our choices are our responsibility and it is not too late to change our mind-set.”
We must rally behind Justine’s vision and not hide under the sheets on this one. The real danger facing our nation will not go away. Comprehensive sex education and the right to safe abortion services are the only way to bring down unwanted pregnancies, school drop-outs and involuntary motherhood.
The writer is Amnesty International Executive Director. Twitter: @irunguhoughton