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How culture has stifled family planning efforts

By Joseph Kipsang | Sep 18th 2018 | 3 min read
Chebarchok Kakori with her children at home in Kolowa village, Baringo County. [Kipsang Joseph/Standard]

Chebarchok Kakori cuddles her eight-month-old-baby outside her grass-thatched house in Kolowa village, Tiaty.

A boy, barely two years old, pulls at her shawl to attract her attention. Two other children, who could easily pass for twins, cling to her. All of them want Ms Kakori’s attention.

But their mother, worn out due to the scorching sun, pushes them away as she sits on the bare ground. The bubbly toddlers won’t give up.

We come to learn that these are just some of Kakori’s children. She has three others — and still counting.

To give herself some breathing space, she has sent the others to the grazing fields. She says she has no idea what family planning is, and plans to continue having children until she is no longer able to.

“I do not have the power to control the number of children I have; that is my husband’s decision,” she said.

Kakori is not alone. Family planning does not make sense to many women from the Pokot community.

Low uptake of family planning in Tiaty has prompted the county government to train community health workers to sensitise residents on how to control the number of children one should have and the intervals between their births.

The methods available are contraception and voluntary sterilisation.

County reproductive health co-ordinator Roselyn Leiro said uptake of family planning in Tiaty is six per cent, the lowest compared to four other sub-counties.

“Uptake of family planning in the county stands at 27 per cent or 175,023 women of reproductive age compared to the national figure of 45 per cent,” said Ms Leiro.

Only 24 per cent of women in Baringo North use birth control measures, 44 per cent in Mogotio and 34 per cent in Baringo South. Eldama Ravine has the highest number of women practising family planning at 46 per cent.

Leiro attributes the low uptake to cultural beliefs and practices. Pastoral communities believe having many children is a sign of wealth and power. Those with few children are not consulted on major decisions.

“It has been very difficult for health workers to convince residents to adopt family planning because of the culture. The community practises polygamy and believes in having many children,” said Leiro.

Men make all decisions, including how many children they will have, and hardly take advice from women. Girls are a source of wealth as their parents get bride price when they get married.

“The government is focusing on implants and injectables. We are concentrating on family planning and reproductive health,” said Leiro.

At Akwichatis Health Centre in Silale, we find William Asil, who is a watchman but who also attends to patients due to a shortage of health workers.

In a corner of one room, there is a carton of condoms.

“No one wants to use the condoms. They stay here until they expire then we throw them away,” said Mr Asil.

Paul Chebet, a nurse at the facility, said many people don’t use contraceptives. “Rarely do we receive people seeking contraceptives. Sometimes, we only receive one or two people in a month who come to seek the services,” he said.

Teenage pregnancies

He said locals do not understand the importance of family planning and there is need for sensitisation.

A 2014 report by the Ministry of Health and African Institute for Development Policy blamed increased teenage pregnancies in Baringo on failure to use contraceptives.

The report indicates only eight per cent of married girls, aged 15-19, use modern contraceptives compared to the national figure of 37 per cent.

Most girls undergo female genital mutilation after which they are married off. Those in school are forced to discontinue their education.

Tangulbei and Chemolingot primary schools are now safe havens for girls fleeing circumcision and early marriage.

Tangulbei has 35 girls while Chemolingot is home to 150.

Nginyang’ Girls High and Tangulbei Girls are among schools with high drop-out rates due to pregnancy. Since 2014, 33 girls from Nginyang have dropped out.

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