Ending teen pregnancies is our joint responsibility


The rise in teenage pregnancies in Kenya continues to spark heated debates in the public domain especially over the last 20 months or so when the Covid-19 pandemic first hit. In addition, the data on its prevalence doing rounds on several platforms has been disputed and alluded to be overstated with a hidden agenda.
Kenya Data and Health Survey (2014) reveals that 1 in every 5 girls between 15-19 years is either pregnant or already a mother. Additionally, data from the Demographic and Health Surveys conducted in the last two decades highlights this trend which has been consistent with a slight change between 1993 and 2014.
A good question to ask ourselves is what is the main cause of these pregnancies in the Country? Our conservative culture views sex as a taboo topic which makes it difficult for parents to have sex-related discussions of any kind with their adolescent children. This often leads to adolescents relying on their peers or other sources for sexual and reproductive health information which is not always accurate. In addition, adolescents struggle to access sexual and reproductive health services that are tailored for them, either because of fear of confidentiality or physical distance from the health facility.
Whatever the barrier to access to information or services, the fact remains that teen pregnancies are destroying our girls’ futures and something needs to be done about it. This is not a girl-related problem because early and unintended pregnancies also affect the adolescent boys.
A pregnant adolescent girl is considered at high risk for many reasons, yet she may not go for antenatal check-up because of fear and embarrassment about her pregnancy. She may not have enough money for the check-ups, and without proper medical care she risks physical complications during the pregnancy and during delivery, which might include giving birth to a premature baby. Eventually, she will be forced to drop out of school and depending on her culture, be subjected to early marriage with someone she does not love or someone who is way older than her.
On the other hand, an adolescent boy who fathers a child has a lot of consequences to face. Family and community may view him as irresponsible. There is also the risk that he and his partner face of contracting STIs, including HIV which can have a negative effect on their baby. Psychologically, he must deal with stress, guilt, and shame, and the knowledge of what the pregnancy means to the girl and his baby. He may be forced to marry the girl no matter how young and economically dependent he is, a situation that may lead to him dropping out of school.
Making factual Adolescent Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights information available to both adolescent girls and boys can go a long way in reducing the incidences of teen pregnancy and ensure that girls especially, maximise all opportunities to further their education and attain their career goals.
Early and unintended pregnancies should not be considered a problem only when they are highlighted in the media or make it to public discourse. They should continue being a priority for both National and County Governments to eliminate through joint efforts with other stakeholders. Budgeting for better adolescent reproductive health services and consistently implementing cost-effective adolescent health programs is a good starting point.
Parents too and other opinion leaders should be sensitised to accept that sexuality education does not lead to sexual immorality among adolescents. They should recognise the benefits of such education to the adolescents, for example making them better placed to make informed decisions about their bodies and sexual health in general.
Lastly, to effectively address the challenge of teen pregnancies, all stakeholders need to acknowledge its gravity and the unique roles they have to play. It is also important that evidence informs the interventions that will be designed so as to effectively address the root cause of this menace.

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