Special Report: Teenage dads forced to quit school to raise their children
By Rose Mukonyo
| September 26th 2021
Kibet is only 15 years old, but is already a father of two. His first born child, a boy, is two years old, while his daughter is eight months old. Both children have different, school-going mothers who resumed learning after delivery of their children. However, Kibet was forced to drop out of school to fend for his young family.
Kibet is among 35 per cent of teenage fathers in West Pokot, where myths and misinformation on contraceptives among young people is one of the leading causes of teen pregnancies.
Kibet dropped out of school in class seven two years ago, when he impregnated the first girl. His mother, a casual labourer, helps in taking care of the children.
“When schools close, the girl takes the child to their home, then returns him when schools re-open,” he says. “We don’t even meet or talk.”
Kibet confesses that he did not know much about contraceptive use, neither did he like the idea of using ‘those things’.
Not only that, research has shown that even girls hardly allow boys to use contraceptives due to common beliefs in the village that contraceptives are used by promiscuous women, or those who have contracted sexually transmitted diseases.
“If you tell a girl you want to use condoms, she will run away and tell other girls to avoid you,” says Kibet, who now earns a living doing menial jobs and ferrying passengers on a boda boda to buy food and clothes for his children.
The young man has accepted his fate: “I am now a father, yet I have nothing. I have already accepted this and I have to be responsible. In the next two years I will be expected to raise school fees, so I have to hustle,” he says.
Rono, Kibet’s neighbour, is only 17 years old, but also dropped out of class seven when he impregnated a classmate in 2019.
Rono’s information on reproductive health was mainly from his parents who discouraged use of pills and condoms in the belief that “they were brought to finish our generation.”
“Wanasema ‘mbona sisi hatukutumia na bado tuko sawa? mbona mtumie? (They say, we did not use and we are alright, so why should you use them?)’,” poses Rono.
His teenage classmate, now a mother, was taken in by her parents when she got pregnant and resumed schooling after delivery.
“When I told my mother about this (pregnancy), she planned to visit the girl’s parents to negotiate. But before the talks could take place, they came and raided all our cows,” recalls Rono who is struggling to raise school fees and a young child.
Out of wedlock
Rono says his culture dictates that a family has to take care of a child born out of wedlock using cattle until its parents come of age.
Sadly, his dreams of becoming a teacher may not come to pass if his mother fails to raise enough school fees to cater for his education.
Rono and Kibet represent a growing segment of teen dads, whose only saving grace are outsiders who are teaching them to change attitudes and behaviour on sexual reproductive health.
“If I tell other boys my age to stay safe, they won’t listen, they will think I don’t want them to have children like me,” explains Rono.
Miriam Chebet, a youth mentor in West Pokot, sympathises with the vulnerable boys because their culture dictates that they pay for unwanted pregnancy with cows.
“Teen dads are the most affected, they take the biggest blame for teen pregnancies and they suffer the most,” she says.
Chebet works under the Holistic Action Project for young Adolescents (HAPA) in partnership with the DSW, an international non-governmental organisation addressing sexual and reproductive health and population dynamics.
She mentors school-going children in five schools and says teen pregnancies are dwindling, thanks to the programme.
“What these boys need is counseling and the right information on the use of contraceptives,” she says.
Wilson Ng’are, the West Pokot Reproductive Health Coordinator, singles out rural areas as the worst hit by teenage pregnancies, unlike urban areas where boys have and apply information on reproductive health.
He says rural areas also have entrenched cultures, myths and misconceptions about contraceptive use.
“Even women in the reproductive age are told not to use contraceptives. They are told they won’t give birth and that they will grow fat. And this is done by the mothers-in-law who tell their daughters to make sure they deliver all the children,” explains Ng’are, adding that girls are also warned against using any contraceptives.
“Teenage pregnancies are going up because there is little or no use of contraceptives,” says the officer.
Dr Abuya Norbert, the West Pokot County Director of Health, has called for proper sensitisation on teen pregnancies, noting that the county has put up measures to curb the rising cases of teenage parenthood.
Dr Abuya says among the measures is setting up of a physical, youth-friendly centre where the youth who engage “in sexual activities, but they do not know what the safe practices are, leading to teen pregnancies” are trained and mentored.
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