Teenage pregnancies remain a threat to the war against HIV and Sexual & Gender Based Violence, with infections remaining high among adolescents and the youth. According to Kenya’s ministry of health, while aids-related deaths have declined in the last 20 years, at least 98 new HIV infections were recorded every week among adolescents aged 10 to 19 by the year 2021 whilst 2,196 cases of SGBV were recorded amongst girls aged 12 to 17 years. 9,500 teenage girls were defiled, impregnated and infected with HIV last year. This figures were captured from the Kenya Health Management Information System derived from clinic visits by teenagers. The numbers could be higher. Kenya is currently ranked 3rd in the world on teenage pregnancy rates, with one in every five women aged 15 to 19 being mothers or pregnant with their first child.
Teenage pregnancy is not a standalone threat hence it’s dubbed the triple threat due to the high risk of HIV infection and cases of Sexual Gender Based Violence which undermines Health, Education, Economic empowerment and eventually the country’s GDP. While Unequal gender power dynamics and relations still remains the driving force in the increased girls’ and women’s risk of gender-based violence, with increased risk of HIV infection and teenage pregnancies, home, one of the places considered a safe place is yet to play the role of a ‘safe place.’
Adolescence is a period marked with significant growth, remarkable development and changes in young lives, filled with vulnerability as well as incredible opportunities and potential. The experiences of adolescents shape the direction of their lives and that of their families. Paying close attention to adolescent health and education is a lifetime investment that’s likely to have positive effects on behavior and lifestyle. This is the population that holds the future hence we need to take care of them so they realize and reach their full potential.
What role do parents and the community play at large when it comes to the Triple Threat? “Blame everything and everyone, just not me...” A typical mindset of almost every African parent. Easy to claim the neighbors’ daughter led my child astray but blind to see what they are doing to drive their own children away, for their child to no longer feel safe at home and people they are growing up around. It’s becoming a cliché that this is a generation of broken, lost, poorly mannered children. The irony, who is raising this generation? If not the same people pointing fingers, because again, blame everything and everyone, just not an African parent or guardian.
“My dad died when I was in class 5. We moved to upcountry because life became unbearable in Nairobi. Upcountry wasn’t easy either so when men started approaching me I saw it as an escape from the hardships. I ended up getting pregnant in high school and the man dumped me. I came back to Nairobi, juja, and worked as a maid being paid 3,000 a month. It wasn’t enough and after giving birth with no work and education I went back to the men again, it seemed easy. I eventually got married to someone’s husband and got pregnant again by him. I had tested HIV positive during my ANC clinics. When my baby was 8months old, his wife came and kicked me and my two babies out of the house and the man said nothing.”
Mariam (not her real name)
Teenagers living in poverty are more likely to engage in sexual activity at a young age due to factors such as lack of education, limited job opportunities, and insufficient access to basic needs like food and shelter. Unfortunately, adolescent girls have reported being taken off school and forced to engage in transactional sex by their parents and guardians. They are turned into a source of income for the family. Not long ago, an Article was published by the Nation. Africa and titled: "Granny at 27: The young grandmas of Homa Bay." The article highlights a group of young women in Homa Bay, Kenya who have become grandmothers in their twenties. The stories of these young mothers and grandmothers are alarming, and the article discusses the factors that contribute to this phenomenon, such as poverty, lack of education, and access to contraceptives. This is not just a Homa Bay story, 2021 HIV Sub County Report Estimated 4.7% of new HIV infections, 5% of teenage pregnancies and 13% of Gender Based Violence cases from Embakasi North in Nairobi county.
My mother died when I was 9years. During the burial, relatives made promises of how they will take care of us. Me and my little brother. After being raped by my dad, we ended up living with my aunt, life wasn’t easy. When I asked to be taken to school she told me ‘enda uza kuma’ to mean go sell your vagina to get money for school. Since I wanted to study so much, i took some savings I had and took myself to school, luckily i got enrolled with the little I had but i couldn’t pay for my little brother. My brother asked to be taken to school and he was told ‘fufua mamayako’ meaning raise your mother from the dead to do that for you. I dropped out of school because I couldn’t raise more money for fees and now I’m taking care of my baby and seeing my brother through school.”
Mary (not her real name)
Mary was defiled by her real father and like many cases we know have gone unreported and when reported its swept under the carpet. Like many children would Mary ran to her aunt place for safety taking her little brother with her. Many teenage pregnancies in Kenya are a result of sexual abuse and exploitation, including rape, incest, and coerced sex. The perpetrators are mostly adults known to the girls and their families. These cases are buried and not reported with the excuse of protecting the families’ honor and more often than not the girl will carry all the blame. In some culture she will be forced into early marriage to cover the shame. Early marriage and childbearing are considered the norm, and teenage girls are expected to marry and start families as soon as they reach puberty. Why are the perpetrators still walking free despite the fact that the Sexual Offence Act 2006 makes intercourse with a child under 18 years of age illegal in Kenya backed by a penalty of up to life imprisonment?
When I got pregnant, my father kicked me out of the house. After some intervention from friends, they took me back in but I could feel the rejection. My father then ceased to pay my fee to continue with my education hence I dropped out of school completely, one participant reported during our Prevention and Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls (PEVAWG) sessions with teen mothers in Dandora.
Shame and stigma, accompanied by guilt and self-blame afflict women in many parts of the world, Kenya is no exception to this rule. Being pregnant as a teenager is an experience filled with shame for the young girl and her family. This shame is at both individual, family and community level acts as a barrier to combating Gender Based Violence against women and girls and access to Sexual Reproductive Health Rights, including HIV prevention, testing and treatment services.Surprisingly Kenya just pulled out of a major regional commitment to reduce HIV, sexually transmitted infections and teenage pregnancies after losing to civil society groups which challenged the withdrawal of the 2012 standard guidelines. This comes after the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) 2022 reported in January that almost half of Kenyan adolescent aged 15 to 17 years have no idea how to protect themselves from HIV/Aids. This I would term as a violation of Women and adolescent girls of reproductive health when we are still struggling to shun away cultural practices that pose as a threat to young women and girls. There is an urgent need to protect girls from harmful practices by ensuring we bring to an end the harmful FGM practice as well as end Child Marriage and eliminate the inequalities that are fueling the Triple Threat. The social value of the girl child should be elevated and ensured in all families, communities and countries by ensuring we give them an equal chance at education. In as much as the conservative socio-cultural and religious political environment in Kenya is opposed to comprehensive sexuality education, policies that empower adolescents with comprehensive sexuality education in schools and communities need to be implemented and all issues brought into the mainstream of health and development, school programs and clubs like peer clubs for guidance and counselling teacher with information on gender-based violence, child abuse and protection rights.
We also need to address the mental health and sexual and reproductive health needs of adolescent girls. This will happen through a comprehensive approach in addressing these challenges. We need to provide comprehensive sex education in schools and communities, increase access to contraceptives, and address poverty and sexual abuse by strengthening provision of medical, legal psychosocial support for adolescent survivors of Sexual Gender Based Violence. Support and implementation of education re-entry policy and a social support system for teen mothers hence need to promote male involvement, parents/guardians, the church and relevant authorities into the conversation.
The human rights of young women and girls, including their human right to a full range of sexual and reproductive health services, must be upheld, and violence and harmful social norms abolished in order for the young girls and women to lead a healthy and fulfilling lives towards building a more equitable and just society.