Many teenage girls in Shimoni, Kwale County, engage in what they call ngono biashara-prostitution to cater for their daily needs.
Amina*, a 15-year-old mother of one in Shimoni says she needs to feed herself and her child and for a Sh100 she can sleep around.
Amina says she was driven into ngono biashara by her mother who stopped caring about her.
“She could not even provide me with sanitary towels. She asked me to move out, I had to stay with friends, that is how I ended up getting pregnant.”
Amina says her clients refused to use protection and she was not on birth control pills for fear of side effects.
Amina dreams of resuming her schooling but reasons, “If I spend the whole day learning I will not have time to look for money to even buy diapers for my child.”
Rukia*, a 17-year-old mother of one, lives with her parents but dropped out of school to fend for her child after the baby’s father bolted.
“I would get home and find my son dirty and hungry, so I dropped out to find means to feed him and myself,” says Rukia, adding that for a school dropout “the quickest way to make money is from men.”
For Halima* it was lack of basic needs and being egged on by her mother to go earn a living out there that got her into ngono biashara. She would beg for Sh50 or Sh100 from men, which culminated in the men asking for favours from her in return.
Halima explains that some clients refuse to pay, forcing her to sleep with more clients to compensate.
On whether she uses protection or if she is on any form of family planning, Halima says that condom negotiation is always a challenge and she does not know much about other contraceptive methods.
Amina and other girls have formed a group called The Pride of Shimoni Girls to sensitise their peers against engaging in ngono biashara.
Pride of Shimoni Girls operates from the home of activist Patricia Kamende, or Madam Patricia who chose to bankroll them from her own experience in early pregnancy.
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Kamende says parents in Kwale hugely contribute to ngono biashara.
“Most have abdicated their roles leaving the children to fend for themselves. This should stop because it is creating an unpleasant cycle among girls.
“A jobless girl gets pregnant early but has to cater for the child. She has sex for money for upkeep and gets pregnant again. The cycle continues,” adds kamende.
For Kamende, the biggest challenge is the justice system as some girls are under age. Some culprits settle the cases out of court while other times the victims are threatened and hence the need for a rescue centre.
“The cases are overwhelming, I would love to host all of them but I can’t.”
If and when rescue centres become available, Kamende proposes they have daycare units as most teen mothers would concentrate more in school if their children are taken care of.
Esha Mohammed, chair, Pride of Shimoni Girls is among girls in Shimoni who escaped teen pregnancy and early marriage.
“I always tell the girls there’s more to life than quick money,” says Esha.
“I try to give them hope because I understand that poverty plays a big part.”
Attitudes are also to blame, including the archaic notion that women should not be educated. This is what led to Yusra* dropping out of school.
Her father reckoned that girls “get married and end up helping the in-laws” and thus hardly need educating. He mother took over but got overwhelmed with her high school fees and she dropped out.
“Providing for my family became an uphill task so I moved out,” says the mother of one who returned home after her parents separated.
Yusra claims she’s allergic to condoms and lack of youth-friendly health facilities dissuaded her from seeking birth control options.
She blames parents in Shimoni for the downfall of their children as a young girl “comes home with a new phone, new dera and the parent will not question. Some parents even encourage their daughters to bring them stuff. Others are in merry-go-rounds and ask their daughters to make their monthly contributions, yet the daughter is not working. “Where could she getting the money from?” pauses Yusra.
Twenty-year-old Salma*, who has epilepsy, was married off early. Her parents feared that someone might take advantage of her and impregnate her.
“They did not want shame in the family, so when I dropped out of school in Standard Seven due to my condition, I was married off. But the man later left me with the children,” she laments.
Athumani Fathili, a parent and activist, says every challenge has a source and parents, especially mothers, have failed in parenting,
A local administrator who sought anonymity says out of court settlements should be discouraged in cases of defilement.
Yusuf*, 22, fell in love and impregnated an underage girl who he claims was using him for money. Though he says the girl’s mother knew about him, he was arrested and put behind bars for 14 days. He was later released on bond. It later emerged the baby was not his.
Apart from unwanted pregnancies, the girls are exposed to STIs and HIV, while others opt for unsafe abortions from largely lack of access to reproductive health services.