COVID-19 LINKED TO INCREASED TEENAGE PREGANANCIES IN NAIROBI’S INFORMAL SETTLEMENTS.
In Kenya, everyone has the right to education, but early and unintended pregnancy keeps many girls out of school. Almost a quarter of girls are pregnant or have given birth by the age of 18. By the age of 20 that figure rises to nearly half of all Kenyan women. Whilst Kenya has robust laws that require girls to go to school and criminalizes various sexual offences that can result to unintended pregnancy, adolescent pregnancy rates remain high and show no sign of falling. This means that laws are not making the difference additional measures are needed to ensure that girls’ human rights are a priority.
The COVID 19 pandemic has created a further crisis on early and unintended pregnancies owing to the closure of schools and limited access to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) information and services for young girls and women.
Hakijamii conducted research in Nairobi’s informal settlements to document these challenges and made the following observations.
“Health crisis for Adolescent girls”
*Naliaka* is 16 years old and 7 months pregnant she was preparing to join high school when the pandemic struck in March, a few months later she discovered she was expectant. *Naliaka* choose to carry her pregnancy to term and visited a close health care facility where she has been going for her anti-natal clinics.
“Other times we are so many and I am likely not to be attended to. Sometimes we don’t get the services that we need. Not to forget in this pandemic most of my friends are around but we don’t get along because I am pregnant.”
According to the Government demographic data from 2014, 15 percent of girls aged 15-19 had already given birth, and another three percent were pregnant with their first child – the highest rates in East Africa.
According to Siddhartha Chatterjee, the UN resident coordinator in Kenya, The global gag rule has made it worse. The institutions that used to provide those services have shut down and therefore the opportunities of access to knowledge and reproductive health services have virtually diminished.
“We are Running from Pregnancy and forgetting HIV”
During this Covid-19 pandemic, more efforts have been geared towards reducing teenage pregnancies and forgetting that there is also increased cases of HIV infections. The thought of this proverb ‘The pumpkin gives birth and the fence has the trouble’ is a constant reminder of the present situation of our teenage girls.
Margaret, a lady in Kibra candidly tells us that there is a need to inform girls that contraceptives do not prevent HIV contraction, but only prevent one from unplanned pregnancies.
“We are running away from telling our sexually active teenage girls and boys that HIV is real, it’s time we have such conversations with our children because we are now their first teachers. We are not ready for teenage pregnancies but forget that we also do not want our children to contract the HIV virus. We cannot evade this.”
Margaret- Kibra resident
According to the PMA2018 Kenya Round 7 Family Planning Brief , almost half (48 percent) of women surveyed aged 18-24 had their first sexual encounter by age 18, of which only 13 percent used contraception, leaving them exposed to pregnancy and HIV. More than half (51%) of all new HIV infections in Kenya in 2015 occurred among adolescents and young people (aged 15-24 years), a rapid rise from 29% in 2013. A number of factors contribute to the increasing rate of HIV infection among young people including the incorrect perception of HIV risk; and having unprotected sexual intercourse under influence of alcohol or drugs.
“Parents need to open up to their teenagers on SRHR Topic”
Teachers have had a big role to play to students when it comes to the topic of SRHR. However, with the closure of schools due to the pandemic, parents have been forced to bear the brunt. Eunice who is a teacher in Olympic primary school tells us that it is high time parents put on their shoes and openly have such discussions. There is still a gap between parents and their children which Eunice alludes to busy schedule from the parents.
“If the children fail, parents are not there to keep them in track. They don’t know who they mingle with especially in these poor urban settings. Parents nowadays do not really know who their children really are especially in this era of the internet.”
Eunice- Primary school teacher
While the country’s Ministry of Education has acknowledged the need to provide information on sexuality, the lack of access to comprehensive sex education is seen to be a key contributor to teenage pregnancy as very few adolescents receive comprehensive sex education. Sex education in Kenya is a taboo in many communities. As a result, many communities reserve sex education for the initiation period. Yet, sex education in Kenya is something that should start earlier and progress with the age of the child. Sex education in Kenya should take place both at home and in school.
A parent sharing her views on SRHR
Unsafe abortion in Kenya.
In Kenya, abortion is common and is almost always illegal and unsafe, according to the World Health Organization’s definition: “carried out either by persons lacking the necessary skills or in an environment that does not conform to minimal medical standards or both. Because abortion is highly restricted and stigmatized in Kenya, measuring abortion levels is challenging, and underreporting is common. A 2009–2010 study conducted in four poor urban settlements in Nairobi asked women about pregnancy and pregnancy loss.8 Of the 200 women who had experienced a pregnancy loss, fewer than 4% characterized it as a voluntary termination, and the vast majority (80%) reported that they had had a miscarriage.
Guidelines and policies.
Various civil society groups have come together to urge the government to release guidelines on conducting safe abortions and provide training for healthcare workers, which it is yet to do despite being ordered by the high court. Restricted access to abortion disproportionately affects the poor who are often unable to support a child.
Despite the government’s efforts to reduce the rise in teenage pregnancies, the numbers still seem to be on the rise. According to the National Council for Population and Development, Adolescent pregnancy is fueled by socioeconomic and sociocultural factors. To effectively reduce teenage pregnancy and its poor health outcomes, programs should ensure that adolescents and youth have full access to sexual and reproductive health information and services. This means establishing high quality, comprehensive, youth-friendly reproductive health services that address the diverse needs of adolescents.
The author is the communications person at Hakijamii firstname.lastname@example.org