A report presented at the end of last week to the Senate Committee on Education revealed that more than 11,000 schoolgirls became pregnant last year — 2,885 in primary schools and 9,065 in secondary schools.
An African Institute for Development Policy (AFIDEP) report estimates that one in five 15-19-year-olds in Kenya is pregnant, which has barely changed in the past 25 years. Yet the number of unreported teenage pregnancies is believed to be higher.
The issues surrounding the unplanned pregnancies affecting tens of hundreds of thousands of young Kenyan girls yearly present difficulties on multiple levels that urgently require redress.
There are health issues. And with a limited education, young parents will have fewer opportunities for work and the family is more likely to suffer from poor health, preventable diseases and malnutrition. Their children will, in turn, beget a new generation facing and suffering the same problems.
DOOM AND GLOOM
But all is not all doom and gloom. The solutions are not simple but clear. Moreover, in them lies a great opportunity to mobilise an immense resource and achieve an economic transformation in Kenya.
Investment in universal health coverage (UHC) will raise the standard of all efforts to improve health, including through family planning.
Strengthen primary healthcare and 90 per cent of people’s health needs can be met, affording them healthier, more productive lives and lifting them out of poverty.
Better schooling and finishing school can provide far greater opportunities for a woman to earn a decent living to support her children, who will, in turn, have the prospect of a healthier, happier and brighter future. For every year a girl stays in school, she increases her future earnings by even 20 per cent.
Investing in young people is critical because 70 per cent of our people are under 30. Harness the ability and energy contained in them to reap the ‘demographic dividend’.
However, Kenya’s prosperity will only grow sustainably when every family is better able to support their children, increase earnings and free up resources for saving and investing. But that requires family planning.
Investing in family planning makes economic sense. Every dollar (Sh100) invested in family planning can save $4 (Sh400) in areas like healthcare, education and sanitation.
For every additional dollar spent on contraceptive services above the current level, the cost of pregnancy-related healthcare will be cut by $2.20 (Sh220).
Delaying the first birth and spacing childbirth means parents can invest more in each child’s nutrition, health and education and give every child the best start in life to fulfil their potential.
No country in the last 50 years that has reaped the demographic dividend has done so without giving people the opportunity to have children at a time that is suitable to them.
Kenyans, especially the youth, are tech-savvy. Integrating Information and Communication Technology (ICT) into the healthcare system will help to drive the push for UHC. Seize the opportunity presented by the potential of the youthful population and we can realise the ‘Big Four Agenda’ and build a strong base to our economy.
Ms Godia is the acting executive director/trustee of the African Gender and Media Initiative (GEM) Trust. [email protected]