Disclaimer: I’m neither a scientist nor a medical doctor, hence I cannot challenge scientific and medical reasons for Kenya’s human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine roll-out for girls from 10 years.
As a mother and a Kenyan with the public interest at heart, I have other reasons for being concerned at the mass vaccination of little girls.
First is the rationale behind the campaign: Immunising young girls against a virus whose mode of transmission is largely sexual.
The link between HPV and the high incidence of cervical cancer in Kenya is indisputable. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization says 5,250 women aged 15 and above are diagnosed with cancer in Kenya yearly and 3,286—two-thirds—succumb to the disease.
IARC ranks cervical cancer as the second-most frequent cancer among women in Kenya and the top frequent cancer among women 15-44 years old.
But why subject minors to the vaccine when the law treats the age group as lacking capacity for sexual consent? Defiling a child under 11 attracts a maximum penalty of life in jail; 12-15-year-olds a 20-year jail term; and 16-18-year-olds 15 years imprisonment.
With such penalties, shouldn’t we be meting out maximum sentences on sex pests, not subjecting our girls to a controversial vaccine? The mass vaccination implies that it’s fine to defile a minor provided she doesn’t catch the virus!
The vaccination drive is the greatest statement yet that the government has no regard for Kenyan parents’ capacity to protect their children from the hazards of premature sex.
The tired argument in defence of not just administering the vaccine to minors, but also dishing out contraceptives — including injectables and implants — is that “they’re doing it, anyway”.
Who would leave their house unsecured just because there will be burglars anyway? The onus is on parents to accord maximum protection to their children from sex pests, which they can if they have the will.
I recently chanced on a study that is totally unrelated to the HPV vaccine roll-out. It found that societies with community sanctions against violence, including moral pressure for neighbours to intervene, had the lowest levels of intimate partner and sexual violence.
It further found that ideologies of male sexual entitlement common in many cultures exclude the possibility that a woman is entitled to make autonomous decisions about participating in sex. She should not refuse a man.
Again, the ‘safe sex’ mantra does not benefit women but the men, whom it grants ready access to even 10-year-olds.
Defilement is, certainly, the worst form of sexual violence, which, unbeknown to many Kenyans, is being driven by policies like the vaccination.
What parents — and communities — should be doing is to protect all children, not just girls, from sex predators by intervening in cases of sexual abuse. For our see-hear-speak-no-evil dictum, neighbours know children are being abused but look the other way. In the past, sex with an unmarried girl was prohibited.
Africans cared about sexual morality both before and after marriage. It’s high time we revisited these morals instead of falling for the market-driven Western agenda.
Ms Kweyu is a consultant revise editor with the ‘Daily Nation’. [email protected]