Organisations involved in maternal healthcare have been urged to help reduce the rising number of teenage pregnancies in Kenya.
Ida Odinga Thursday decried the “large number” of teenagers dropping out of school because of pregnancy and warned that the situation could weigh heavily on our economy if not stemmed.
“A healthy nation develops much faster but in my work I have come across, in many places, a very large number of girls, teenage girls, who become mothers when they are still in their teens. And this is widespread,” she said at the Nairobi Women’s Hospital when she launched a refurbished casualty ward.
“You find them all the way from Kaloleni to Busia. You find it in Kisii and you find it all the way to Turkana.”
Her comments echoed revelations made in a recent Ministry of Health report in which researchers found that more than half of women in urban areas around the country have had their first sexual intercourse before they reach 17.
According to the Report of the Baseline Household Survey, many women in Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu reported having frequent sex even when most came from poor families and rarely used family planning methods.
“Sexual debut occurred earlier in the poorer wealth quintile regardless of urban area of origin, an important finding that might suggest a combination of factors at play,” the researchers observed. The factors included women using sex as a tool of earning livelihood (prostitution), lack of opportunity and a feeling of hopelessness.
The findings showed that women from rich families were frequent users of family planning tools even though they engaged in sex often when they are at the right age.
For instance, 77 per cent of women from poor quotas in Kisumu had sex before they reached 18 compared to only 36 per cent from rich families.
Moreover, in some towns like Machakos, poor women found it difficult to use family control pills because they were too expensive for them.
Mrs Odinga said the girls often start having babies when their bodies are too young meaning that the health of their newborns is also vulnerable.
According to her, this is worsened by the fact the girls are not educated enough to take care of their babies.
“We are told that every hour in Kenya, there is a woman dying as a result of pregnancies and birth related issues. This can be stopped if only we can tell our girls and encourage them not to have babies before they are of certain age when their bodies can handle this.”