Most of our mothers – for those above the age of 40 – were teenage mothers, married by 16, with first child by 18 and done with childbearing by 25.
Few advanced beyond basic education and those who did already had their firstborns before they started university or college. They raised children in the 70s and 80s and fought tooth and nail to ensure that the children got educated and employed.
These no-nonsense parents did not think there was a future in the arts, and favoured professions such as law, engineering, accounting, medicine and architecture as the epitome of success.
Their children walked to and from school, got home to do assignments and chores, cleaned up after themselves and learnt basic life skills from their parents.
Television was a privilege; children read books and comics for entertainment. The children belonged to the community and neighbours punished all children for wrongdoing. Getting pregnant in school was taboo.
Fast-forward to 2018 and we are wringing our hands over the high number of teenage pregnancies. Rural communities that are still deeply invested in harmful practices (e.g. female genital mutilation and child marriage) enable teenage pregnancies to thrive.
A report by the Ministry of Health showed that Narok County leads in teenage pregnancies with four out of 10 being mothers while still children themselves.
Despite progress being made in tackling child marriages in these communities, the statistics are still nothing to write home about.
Away from the impact of harmful cultural practices, poverty also drives the numbers.
The contributing factors have been reported over and over again: poverty, insecurity, lack of privacy for purposes of ablution and the severe unmet need for housing that forces families to live in unacceptably close proximity.
What is interesting is that every faction has solutions, but these solutions are not being applied synergistically to solve the problem. Is it a legal problem? Very much so.
It matters not the angle we view this from, it is defilement, punishable by law. Is it a health problem? Yes it is. Children should not be having children. It has negative physical and psychological consequences that we all know about.
Is it a social problem? Absolutely. Everything that enables these pregnancies is vested in the degradation of the social fabric.
The line between adulthood and childhood is blurred, with children taking adult roles while adults are failing in their role to protect, nurture and guide the children.
Is it a moral problem? Most certainly so. But the bigger question here is whose morality is in question. We must not reduce this to a religious debate. Morality should not only be viewed through a religious lens. Some extreme religions across the world do support marrying off children. Morality must traverse all spheres.
We must set aside our preferences and embrace proposals made to counter this epidemic. We are losing time while engaging in unproductive debates. Let us embrace synergy so that we have an all-rounded product to steer our children away from this pitfall.
Many parents never had sexuality education in school, church or at home. They are therefore poorly equipped to offer it. They are quick to bump off this responsibility to teachers or religious leaders.
The only language they know is the threats they received from their own parents when they were teenagers. Can we start here?
This is the primary prevention strategy we must embrace. Equip parents to hold the awkward conversations with their children. Equip teachers to effectively teach life skills. Equip religious leaders to handle the same from the pulpit.
The secondary strategy will require a lot of effort to get our heads out of the sand. The law must be enforced to protect minors. We cannot continue to pay lip service to the constitutional protections afforded to our children.
In addition, we must be cognizant of the fact that even with all these interventions, there will still be minors who will require contraception and family planning services.
These, they must access in keeping with their constitutional right to the highest attainable standards of health.
Tertiary intervention is the last bit of the safety net. For the ones who are already teen mothers, what have we put in place to cater for them? Sending them back to school is not enough.
If a girl got pregnant because she had to sell sex for pads, what is she going to feed her child with? How have we changed her circumstances to prevent a recurrence?
There is need for clear social protections for these young mums to break the vicious cycle. Our children’s future depends on us!