As the debate on giving adolescents contraceptives rages on, it evokes many questions.
Why do young children as young as 12 need to be on contraceptives as highlighted in the Daily Nation recently (Monday, April 18, 2017)? Has society failed them and their guardians?
We have read moving stories from different counties of desperate mothers resorting to putting their teenage daughters on contraceptives. Many of these teenagers are already mothers and their own mothers are concerned about them having more children.
What this narrative is missing is why a 12-year-old is engaging in sexual activity to the extent of needing to ‘plan her family’.
How about the other dangers associated with unprotected sex? HIV/AIDS infection, loss of school time and education opportunity and emotional issues associated with early onset of sex. Why is it that parents are willing to send these children to the health facility for contraceptives but are unwilling or unable to discuss sexuality issues which led to the unwanted pregnancy in the first place?
Is it right for 12-year-olds to be engaging in sex? There is no community in Kenya that condones young children engaging in sexual activity, but data shows that it is happening in many communities, irrespective of urban or rural settings. So what has gone wrong?
In one of the articles, a health worker is quoted as saying ‘the current generation of children is not one that waits to be told’. I pondered on this and asked myself, who is telling these children anything as they grow up? The parents believe that they are still too young to be engaged in discussions on sexuality, until they are shocked to see them pregnant.
The teachers are restricted in what they can discuss with the children because the ‘content’ on sexuality education has never been agreed on due to the protracted debate on the issue. In any case, many teachers are too busy dealing with the ‘real’ subjects, which are key to the children’s passing of examinations, to have time for these ‘soft’ issues.
Some teachers have also expressed inadequate preparation during their training to be able to tackle these discussions with their pupils. So where does this leave the children? To their own devices and learning from their peers. We should therefore not be surprised by the results. How long will we continue to bury our heads in the sand at the expense of our children?
The Ministry of Health has guidelines on how and when to give contraceptives to young people including adolescents. At age 12 these adolescents are still in primary school. They have no families to plan for yet they are on contraceptives which means they are engaging in sexual activity. The question for all of us is who bears the burden of giving information to adolescents on sexuality?
In the traditional system the aunties, uncles and even grandparents used to perform this role but with the current family set-up this is not possible and parents are desperate for their daughters not to become pregnant; however the elephant in the room is STIs and HIV infection.
The children who were born with HIV are now adolescents and some of them are already having sex and we are all aware that sex at this age is more of an adventure; it is not planned. This therefore calls for sexuality education that respects our culture and religious beliefs.
The question therefore is who will be the duty bearer to ensure our young people have the right information to make informed choices?
Parents, teachers, religious leaders and the community are all duty bearers to ensure that adolescents have the right information that is age-appropriate and this should start early to ensure that even children who are abused are in a position to know they have been violated.
Sexuality education is not about teaching children to have sex, rather it is teaching them to understand the various changes that take place in their bodies and how to respond to these changes.
It is not enough to criticise and show how information on sexuality education will corrupt our children, we need practical solutions to help save our children, the problem is with us now and solutions are needed yesterday not tomorrow.
Let us all do our part to empower our teenagers to make informed decisions; they do have a ‘right’ to information as per the Constitution.
Dr Josephine Kibaru-Mbae, is a reproductive health specialist and the director general of the National Council for Population and Development