Let government administrators save our girls from rising early pregnancies
Twenty five year old Jane Atieno (not real name), had her first child at 12 years. Another 12 years later, she vividly recalls the incident that led to her being a mother when she was still a child.
Atieno who lives in Oyugis town, Homa Bay County, narrates her predicament painfully. The mother of two first gave birth at the age of 12, two years after her parents’ demise.
After the death of her mother, 12-year-old Atieno moved in with her 70-year-old grandmother. Life soon took a different turn when she requested her uncle to buy her some books.
”I had earlier asked him to buy for me some books when he instead invited me to his house,” Atieno narrates. Thinking that she was going to be given money to go to the bookshop, what she would get ended up not being books. Atieno was defiled by her uncle.
“I couldn’t imagine that he could be so immoral and heartless. At first, he tried persuading me to have sex with him to get more goodies in return, but when I declined, he forced himself on me.”
To seal what he had done, the uncle threatened to kill her. As naïve and innocent as she was, Atieno believed in his threats. This later made him perfect the art.
“He would waylay me by the roadside and take me to his house every time I was going to or coming from school,” she recalls. “I was confused and did whatever he wanted as enduring the pain became a daily routine.”
Even though the uncle was later caught by Atieno’s teachers and the villagers around, she was already pregnant with her first child.
Atieno’s case is not unique. In Migori County, girls as young as 12 years are already with babies or will be found to be pregnant.
A visit to Migori County Referral Hospital will leave one speechless as girls below the age of 14 are being attended to in maternity wards. Some were taking their babies to the clinic during weekdays when they are supposed to be in school.
The question now is who is not playing their part in ensuring these girls’ safety? Is it the parents? Could it be teachers who have failed to instil proper virtues? Has the community abdicated its role? Are our laws ineffective to deal with cases of sex with the minors? Are parents neglecting their responsibilities?
The community attributes this unfortunate state to poverty. Some say girls are cheated by cunning men who promise them money and material things then end up luring them to indulge in pre-marital sex. Others blame parents who fail to take their children to school or cater for their needs and leave them idle to get involved in sexual activities as an option on how to spend their leisure time.
In Migori County, students leave for school as early as 5.00 am. This gives rogue men an opportunity to stage easy hunt on the vulnerable. Boda boda riders especially, take advantage of such circumstances to give free ride to these girls in exchange for sex. The early school going hours leave the girls exposed to various atrocities that include rape and defilement.
After falling into a trap of their predators, the minors are sometimes threatened against telling their ordeal to anyone, be it their teachers, parents or guardians and so keep on suffering until they become pregnant or a fishy activity is detected.
Ironically, the protectors have turned out to be the predators. Parents of the survivors of sexual violence in many cases do not report the matter to police and instead resort to out-of-court settlement. Secondly, parents or close relatives who should protect their girls sometimes end up being the perpetrators who abuse the girls sexually.
Protecting girls from sexual and gender based violence is a collective responsibility that cannot be left to one person.
Provincial and county administrators have a role to play and they can detect what is happening in the villages and ensure the culprits are arrested and charged in court.
Stern rules and actions taken against administrators who include chiefs and village elders who promote out-of-the-court settlements that have hindered prosecution of the suspects and promoted such ills in society.
These government arms and the agencies must again ensure that such girls are traced and taken back to school or given proper and necessary medical care. Parents should also take the first step to save girls from such inhuman acts by ensuring children safely go to school and have guidance and counselling talks with their daughters at home.
Teachers should also be responsible not to impose rules that expose girls to early sexual behaviour. The Ministry of Education should also make it comprehensive sexuality education a compulsory topic in schools so girls are educated on matters that will prevent them from getting pregnant and contracting sexually transmitted diseases including HIV.