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Despite harsh laws, teenage pregnancies continue to ruin future of many girls

Tuesday June 16 2020
girl

Ms Josephine Ndirias, a child rights activist, counselling a pregnant 14-year-old girl in Laikipia North Sub-County. PHOTO | MWANGI NDIRANGU | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By MWANGI NDIRANGU

For two months now, John has been watching with dismay as the stomach of his teenage daughter grows bigger with every passing day.

It was mid-April this year when he learnt that his first-born daughter, a Standard Five pupil in Laikipia North Sub-county, was pregnant. Even more shocking was that the man responsible was her uncle.

“The man who has impregnated my daughter is a relative, someone I could entrust with the care and protection of my four children. It really pains to see what I thought was a meek sheep turning into a hyena and devouring one of its offspring,” he says with a tinge of bitterness.

WHEELS OF JUSTICE  

He adds: “Anytime I travelled, I would leave my children in the care of their 18-year-old uncle since my wife is sickly and has to use a wheelchair.”

Initially, John thought of giving the young man a beating but realised that he could be arrested for assault.

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Besides, their culture warns against causing a close relative physical harm because it can attract a curse.

 So he decided to pursue justice through legal means and reported the matter to the relevant authorities, and is waiting for action to be taken against the man.

“In Kenya, the wheels of justice are slow, but I’ll not rest until I see that the culprit is punished for ruining the future of one of my three daughters, who is a bright student. It’s the only way to discourage other men out there from preying on schoolgirls,” he says.

When his daughter gives birth later this year, she will join the many teenage girls who are forced into premature parenthood, many of whom drop out of school while others marry early, compromising their reproductive health.

But what is worrying is that there are seven other families in the same village whose daughters have got pregnant since January. At Ethi Dispensary in Laikipia County, eight teenagers have been confirmed to be pregnant.

NATIONAL EXAMINATIONS

“Teenage pregnancy is very common in the local community. Since January this year, we have registered eight cases in this facility, with four cases being confirmed in the last two months, which could be an indication that Covid-19 could be a contributing factor to the rise in teenage pregnancy,” a medic at the facility suggests.

A 2019 report compiled by the National Council on Population and Development (NCPD) indicated that 20,828 girls who had conceived were aged between 10 and 14 years, while 349,365 were aged 15-19 years.

The report, quoting a 2014 study, indicates that more than 13,000 teenage girls drop out of school annually due to pregnancy. The Ministry of Education puts the number of girls, who fail to sit for national examinations or write the papers in maternity wards at more than 400 annually.

The NCPD report noted that nearly 380,000 teenagers became mothers every year. To protect girls from men who lure them into early sex, the council recommended “strict implementation of the Sexual Offences Act”.

Sex with a minor is a crime in Kenya and attracts a jail term ranging from 15 years to life imprisonment upon conviction.

HEALTH FACILITIES

But although the country has laws to protect girls from sex pests, teenage pregnancy in the county remains one of the highest in East Africa, with Narok County leading in the country where two out of five teenagers are either young mothers or are on their way to parenthood.

Although Laikipia County was not mentioned in the NCPD report as a hotspot for teenage pregnancies, reports from rural health facilities, local administrators as well as surveys by community organisations paint a grim picture of the pastoral communities, who are estimated at 11 per cent of the county’s population.

Ms Josephine Ndirias, who has been supporting teenage mothers go back to school, says she has 35 young mothers in her programme.

“One of the girls, who has a heart complication, gave birth at 14 years. We took her back to school but she has conceived again, a situation that has seen her condition worsen, and she is currently in hospital,” says the founder of Mukogodo Girls Empowerment Programme.

Ms Ndirias says parents, religious organisations and the Ministry of Education should come together and get to the root of the problem, and also come up with practical solutions since the vice continues to thrive even with the Sexual Offences Act in place.

EARLY MOTHERHOOD

As the Day of the African Child is marked today, with the theme “Access to a Child-Friendly Justice System in Africa”, John and hundreds of other parents whose teenage daughters have been forced into early motherhood, can only hope that the wheels of justice will turn fast enough to punish those who ruined their children’s health and education.

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