Teenage pregnancies robbing Kakamega girls of their childhood, future

Naliaka, who lives with her grandmother fell prey to favors extended to her by boys because she could hardly afford essential items including pens, books, and even toiletries.

She is among thousands of expectant girls aged between 10 and 18 from Kakamega County where some 19,000 girls aged between 10 and 18 were impregnated in 2019 according to medical statistics.

County Reproductive Health Officer Ameldah Barasa discloses that the data between 2019 -2021, paints a grim picture of the situation that is robbing girls of their childhood and future.

"The only ray of hope is that the numbers have started dropping gradually," she says.

Ms Barasa believes about a two percent drop recorded in 2020 where there were some 17, 000 teen pregnancies were due to campaigns rolled out to deal with the issue.

But that has not helped much in the context of national prevalence as the county ranked fifth nationally among those with a high burden of teen pregnancies with 14, 000 teenagers affected last year.

The latest statistics show over 7,000 teenage girls were impregnated between January and July this year.

"The numbers could go as high as 12,000 by the end of the year, nonetheless, we are doing everything within our means to arrest the runaway cases," says Barasa.

She cites a lack of reproductive health awareness among teenagers and male parents and poverty as some of the factors that have contributed to the burden.

"Most of the young mothers are from poor backgrounds making them easy prey to goodies that lead them to have early sex," explains the officer.

Boda boda riders, teachers, and in some instances guardians of the girls have been singled out as perpetrators of the evil act.

Butere leads the pack of sub-counties with the highest number of teenage pregnancies at 29 percent followed by Ikolomani (28 percent) and Mumias West (26 percent).

Others are Navakholo (23 per cent), Malava (19.6 per cent) and Lurambi which has the lowest cases at 16 per cent.

"The cases are fewer in Lurambi because it offers enhanced access to reproductive health services unlike the rural sub-counties," says Ms Barasa.

Likuyani Sub-County Reproductive Health Officer, Daniel Mugabe had earlier disclosed that at least 30 per cent of pregnant mothers visiting antenatal clinics in the area are girls aged between 10 and 18.

According to him, poverty, gender-based violence and lack of awareness are major causes of teenage pregnancies.

"We must deal with the Kangaroo courts, create awareness and address stigma among pregnant girls," said Mugabe.

He regretted that many pregnant girls fear going back to school after delivery due to stigma.

"The Education ministry has come up with a back-to-school policy for pregnant girls, we must help them return to school," said Dickson Ogonya, the County Director of Education.

Mr Ogonya said many teenage mothers have been assisted back to school but could not quantify the exact number.

Likuyani Sub-county gender-based violence officer, Abubakar Shikanda said teenage pregnancy cases were worse when Covid-19 was first reported.

Among intervention measures put in place include awareness creation, enactment of the Kakamega County Sexual Gender Based Violence Policy launched in November 2021, the back-to-school policy, the multi-agency Rapid Result Initiative and the establishment of young mothers clubs in health facilities across the county.

The Sexual Gender-Based Violence Policy seeks to protect and promote reproductive health education among teenagers.

"We encourage the teenage mothers to form groups and become champions of Sexual Reproductive Health among their peers in order to help reduce teenage pregnancy," says Ms Barasa.

Such groups are targeted for training in reproductive health education. "We are able to reach many other teenagers through this approach that enables the girls to share experiences and vital lessons and information."

Ms Barasa says they have started reaching out to men in the society with reproductive health education because fathers are decision-makers in families.

"A survey conducted in 2019 by Afya Halisi, a non-governmental organization showed that men were not taking an active role in reproductive health matters."

The survey showed girls were more responsible and confident in families where men were fully involved in reproductive health issues.

Kakamega county works in collaboration with the Teenage Pregnancy Technical Working Group (TWG), a multi-sectoral technical working group bringing together the ministry of Health, Education, Children Department, Social Services Department, Teachers Service Commission and Gender Department.

The team holds quarterly meetings to assess the situation and come up with an action plan.

"We investigate defilement cases and ensure perpetrators are arrested and prosecuted, and victims have access to pro bono lawyers to help them pursue justice in courts, this has been necessitated by the county attorney's office," said Ms Barasa.