Teen pregnancy is both a public health and education problem in Kenya. The gravity of this problem varies from county to county. Ten counties, about half of which are in the Central region, have recorded the lowest teenage pregnancy rates (less than 10 per cent), whereas, six counties, half of which are in Nyanza, have the highest pregnancy rates (greater than 20 per cent).
The national pregnancy rate has only declined marginally over the past two decades. Essentially, national efforts to meet the sexual and reproductive health needs of adolescents in the country have fallen short.
The government recently launched the Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Policy (2015), which emphasises access to comprehensive sexuality education and adolescent-friendly sexual and reproductive health information and services. However, there is a need to address the implementation challenges that hampered the success of the 2003 Adolescent Reproductive and Health Policy if teenage pregnancy is to be reduced.
The main challenge lies in the implementation of the policies and enforcement of related laws. An opportunity for progress is the devolved system of governance. Also, county-level data is now being generated to support the designing of county-specific interventions to reduce teenage pregnancy.
However, counties’ capacity to use data and evidence in their decision-making needs to be strengthened.
County policymakers also need to be sensitised on the importance of prioritising, planning, and mobilising resources to improve access to secondary school education, comprehensive sexuality education, and adolescent-friendly health services.
Teen pregnancy has negative health, social, and economic consequences on girls and national development. Girls who become pregnant tend to drop out of school and often end up with inadequate education, skills, and opportunities to secure jobs.
RAPID POPULATION GROWTH
Countries lose out on the annual income a young woman would have earned over her lifetime if she had avoided an early pregnancy.
Furthermore, early child-bearing is linked to high fertility and rapid population growth, which puts pressure on available resources and hampers national development.
Kenya can reduce teen pregnancy by keeping girls in secondary school and higher education, intensifying efforts to address the underlying economic and socio-cultural factors that lead to school drop-out, and allowing adolescents to have access to comprehensive sexuality education and friendly sexual and reproductive health information.
While Kenya has made great strides to improve access to basic education through the 2003 free education policy, the Ministry of Education has reported that on average, only 57 per cent of primary school students transition to secondary school, with girls being more disadvantaged than boys.
Poverty, which at household level translates to lack of school fees, is a major contributing factor to school dropout, particularly among girls.
Other factors include early marriage and female circumcision. In some communities, these practices are still common despite reforms aimed at preventing and eliminating them.
Comprehensive sexuality education is not offered in schools as a national programme despite global evidence pointing to its effectiveness in empowering adolescents to make informed decisions about their sexuality and sexual health.
Additionally, there has been little investment in the health sector to make the health system adolescent-friendly, leading to poor access to sexual and reproductive health services by adolescents.
Ms Murunga is a senior knowledge translation officer at the African Institute for Development Policy. [email protected]