The National Council for Population and Development (NCPD) is a semi-autonomous agency of government under the National Treasury and the Ministry of Planning. NCPD coordinates the implementation of the population policy for sustainable national development.
Why is it important to manage a country’s population?
Population management is not done in isolation. It is done to determine mortality rates, fertility among citizens and migration issues, which enables planning for provision of education, healthcare, sanitation, housing and other fundamental amenities and services. We do this by collecting data through research and conducting advocacy and public education programmes.
How different are today’s youth from the youth of your time?
Information was very limited when we were growing up, unlike today where exposure is dizzyingly high. For example, young people are being exposed to sex very early.
The family structure was also different then, and guidance for youth was a communal role. There was more emphasis on extracurricular activities and less emphasis on academic excellence.
Today, children are being subjected to too much pressure in academics, which, to some extent, contributes to such malpractices as cheating in exams. Instead of focusing exclusively on certain aspects of life, the society should aim at raising an all-round generation of youth.
While information online and in the media is plentiful, not all information is appropriate for all audiences. It is therefore critical to regulate the kind of information that young people are accessing.
What is the current status of the population in Kenya?
More than 80 per cent of Kenyans are below 35 years. Kenyans below 25 years and who are still in school constitute about 60 per cent of the entire population. This structure makes ours a youthful population.
That said, we have no choice but to manage this huge explosion. One way to do that is to manage the size of family units through government family planning programmes and by providing education on sexual reproductive health.
In what ways is NCPD managing Kenya’s bulging youthful population?
We work with multiple government agencies such as the ministries of Health and Education to identify practical ways to provide quality education, and quality and affordable healthcare for the youth.
We are also providing employment opportunities in government and creating an enabling environment for business.
We recommend to the government effective strategies for harnessing the potential of young people. The council has designed a policy document called the Demographic Dividend Roadmap that prioritises four major pillars namely: health, education, job creation and governance.
The policy will guide various government agencies on where to invest resources.
Tell us why governance is important to young people…
The youth want to feel part of the development agenda in their country. When the youth miss out on opportunities because of ills such as corruption and nepotism, this breeds inequity and dissatisfaction.
It becomes easier to enlist qualified graduates and young people with technical expertise in crime and terrorism as a result of idleness and frustration. Not investing in the youth is not an option.
There are significant dynamics in young people’s sexual reproductive health…
Unlike two decades ago, today young people are getting sexually active very early.
The demographic survey that was carried out in 2014 showed that 18 per cent of schoolgirls between 10-19 years had carried a pregnancy. The situation is worse in some counties where one in three girls conceives before her twentieth birthday.
The majority of Kenyans who are getting new HIV infections are young people below 24 years. By the time they are in their 40s, they will have full-blown Aids, which means we will be losing a generation if we do not intervene.
What is the council doing to curb this scenario?
First, the country must wake up to the reality that young people are engaging in sex very early, and educate them on the risks that early sex exposes them to.
We are working with the Ministry of Education, through the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development, to incorporate sexuality and sex education at all levels of education.
This will promote awareness among learners on how HIV/Aids infection happens and where to acquire services and drugs for those who are already infected. Information is power.
It is unlikely that a 16-yearl-old girl would want to go for antenatal services in a general hospital where everybody sees her. For those who conceive early, we are promoting youth-friendly facilities in hospitals where young mothers can get services without being stigmatised; stigma often leads to attempted abortions or concealing the pregnancy.
Are there major shortcomings in this cause?
Kenyans do not like to talk about matters of sexuality openly, owing to the sociocultural and religious set-ups that we live in. It has taken painfully long to complete the discussion on sexuality education and to agree on the content.
There is also a lack of responsibility, where most parents erroneously assume that someone else will teach their children about sexuality.
Access to family planning services is also a major problem for most young people. There have been cases of victimisation of health officers for providing these services to underage girls due to a rigid system.
We have made remarkable progress, nonetheless, such that young girls can now obtain antenatal and family planning services without their parents’ consent.
Is the distribution of family planning services in Kenya a success?
The distribution and use of contraceptives in areas such as Kirinyaga County is more than 80 per cent, while in hard-to-reach counties such as Wajir and Mandera it is below 10 per cent due to not just cultural and religious reasons but also inaccessibility.
When people have to travel for many kilometres to obtain ordinary health services, there is little or no motivation to make the sacrifices to seek reproductive health services. We are working to address these discrepancies to ensure equity.
What would you say to a young person reading this?
You need to have as much information as possible about your sexuality. When you are armed with information, you are able to make decisions from a point of knowledge.
If you are a female student, remain in school as long as possible because this minimises the risk of early pregnancy.
Thirdly, be open-minded about what you wish to pursue as a career or entrepreneurship. Take charge of your life; what you do now will influence your future.