As a young girl, a Samburu girl whom we shall call Asha in order to spare her from stigma, dreamt of becoming a nurse so she could help mothers and children in her community.
At 14, just as she was beginning to prepare for the National Primary School Certificate Examinations (K.C.S.E), Asha discovered she was pregnant.
The herbs a moran gave her every time things got steamy had not worked. So, she ran away from home and dropped out of school. Her naive mind saw that as the only available option. After all, many girls had been chased from home for having children out of wedlock. What would make her story different?
Becoming an unmarried teen mum is considered a taboo in almost every culture. The reality of such a life in a highly patriarchal Samburu is worse. Stigmatisation of unwed teen mums in Samburu means in part that the girls are unwelcome to attend any of the rich cultural rituals.
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John Lemuna, the headmaster at Logorate Primary School in Samburu explains: “Our culture embraces rituals in the form of weddings, circumcision, and moran initiation ceremonies all year round. Unwed mothers and adolescent pregnant girls are not invited to such ceremonies and nobody marries them.”
A teen mum is expected to embrace the possibility of remaining a single mother as most of the young men are cultured not to consider marrying girls who have children out of wedlock. Part of the problem is that proper sex education is not done.
So, most girls do not fully understand the repercussions of engaging in sex before they are mentally, physically, emotionally as well as financially able to deal with the repercussions of such a decision.
In Samburu County, Logorate Primary School is the only school within the county that deliberately seeks to have teen mums go back and complete their education after delivery.
According to Lemuna, the humiliation is heightened for school girls who get pregnant because they are seen as failures both in the community; where the ideal would have been to go through the cut (FGM) and early marriage and in society as school dropouts.
Lemuna has made it his personal responsibility to follow up on such girls and ensure that they have a second chance at building a bright future.
“Whenever a teacher notices that a female student has started missing classes, the teacher is expected to investigate what the problem is and report to me,” Lemuna explains. He then reaches out to the area chief who identifies the family of the girl.
According to Lemuna, most parents disown their daughters once they become pregnant while in school. In most instances, they are chased away from home. They believe that once a girl gets pregnant, she has no future as it is not possible to marry her off. Nonetheless, through counselling from the area chief and headmaster, some parents like Asha’s mother allow their daughters to return home on condition that the girls continue with their education after giving birth.
“Some parents do not respond positively to the counselling given by the chief or the headmaster at first. Especially those who consider sending their girls to school a deviation from tradition,” says Logorate area chief John Lekamparish. It is at this point that the headmaster or the chief reaches out to the parents of school-going mothers to intervene.
When men fight for the future of the girl child, especially where the odds of are highly stacked against her, it makes all the difference. When men who have a level of influence in society go the extra mile in that fight, it is something worth celebrating.
In a report published in 2018 by the Ministry of Health, teenage pregnancy is one of the major threats to the country’s development. Samburu County recorded high numbers with a prevalence rate of 26 per cent putting it in position six among the top 10 most affected counties, eight points higher than the national average of 18 per cent
Low rates of modern contraceptive use (20 per cent) against an early sexual debut (median of 15.7 years) predisposes the youth to unplanned pregnancies.
Key contributing factors to early sexual debut, the resulting high rate of teenage pregnancies and risk of HIV/STIs are the cultural practices of beading of young girls by morans, early marriages and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), According to Amref Health Africa.
Truth is, these girls must be empowered economically even as they pursue their education so that they are able to comfortably provide for their children.
Binti Shujaa, an initiative created with the support of USAID through the Afya Timiza project aims at giving pregnant school-going and out-of-school adolescent girls a sense of acceptance and belonging. Acceptance and belonging can only come through intentional training and empowerment.
The project also engages both primary and secondary schools on sexual and reproductive health (teachings and training highly needed not just in Samburu but across all counties if statistics recorded over the years are anything to go by). It has over time facilitated training on family planning for Community Health Workers.
The result of the combined effort is that there were no reports of teenage pregnancy in Logorate Village in 2019, eight of the Binti Shujaas identified have returned to school, six transitioned to secondary school, two are set to join polytechnics for vocational training, one has joined college and seven are set to join college.