A new study has revealed that 33 per cent of girls aged between 15 and 19 years in Homa Bay county are either mothers or expecting.
This is according to the study christened Unintended Pregnancies and HIV Among Adolescents and Young People, a situation analysis of Homa Bay county.
The study carried out by the Overseas Development Institute and LVCT Health, with support from UNICEF stipulates that the rate of teenage pregnancy and motherhood in Homa Bay is almost twice the national average which is 18 per cent.
The study was officially launched by the Public Service and Gender CS Margaret Kobia via a zoom meeting that was also presided over by Governor Cyprian Awiti, UNICEF Representative to Kenya Maniza Zaman and Woman Rep Gladys Wanga on Friday.
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The study also shows that the youth aged 15-24 years contribute 13 per cent of the total number of HIV infections among those aged 15 to 49 in the county. There are similar trends in other counties in Western Kenyan.
Adolescent girls were identified as particularly vulnerable, as they often have little say in relationships and the use of protection during intercourse.
It was also discovered that the girls face pressure from peers or wider society to get pregnant, get married early or circumstances force them into transactional sex.
The study found that adolescent girls are at risk of sexual violence, increasing their risk of contracting HIV and unintended pregnancy.
Defilement on the rise
The study also revealed a rise in cases of defilement of under-age girls in the county, particularly during school holidays with most of the case going unreported.
The researchers also discovered that violence and sexual abuse of under-age girls are often not reported due to fear of stigma and prejudice.
According to Zaman, the study recommends urgent steps to ensure children and young people receive information and support they need to enable them to protect themselves from unintended pregnancy and HIV.
“We can realise great change if we accord children and adolescents the right information they need,” said Zaman.
Prof Kobia expressed concerns that cases of defilement had been on the rise since the Covid-19 pandemic began in the country.
Speaking when she was launching the report, Kobia said the study will enable the government and stakeholders to know how to improve the lives of girls in the county.
The CS proposed a gender-sensitive approach which includes training girls and boys on life skills.
“There should also be coordination from both the State and non-state actors so that we can work jointly towards preventing defilement and HIV infections,” Prof Kobia said.
Awiti said his administration will act on the report by giving budgetary allocations on activities aimed at ending defilement.
“Homa Bay is affected by a high level of poverty which contributes to the vice. This report will guide us on how to fight the vice,” Awiti said.
Wanga called for concerted efforts by stakeholders in fighting the vice.
“My office undertakes a girl child mentorship programme but we still need to do a lot with all stakeholders to win the war,” Wanga said.