Teenage girls lack support in seeking ante-natal care services
According to the Kenya Demographic Health Survey 2014, 19.2 percent of girls aged between 15 and 19 in Homa Bay County have had a live birth already, while 22.2 percent within that bracket have begun child bearing.
In addition, contraceptive uptake among women aged 15 to 49 in the county is below average, at 46.7 percent.
This is while people aged between 15 and 19 are sexually active, their level of contraception, even for disease preventing measures such as condom use, is the lowest, at below five percent with a discerning figure of teenage pregnant girls accessing ante-natal care services.
Statistics are worrying
The menace of teenage pregnancies particularly for the un-empowered girl child due to lack of knowledge of sexual reproductive health issues continues to be a heavy burden to both local and national leadership.
Take the case of 17 year old Linet* (name changed) from Awendo in Homa Bay County, who not only had to drop out of school but also had to deal with issue of stigmatization among peers and the community at large.
“When I realized I was pregnant I did not know what to do. I did not have any one to turn to since my mother whom I could have confided to was sickly and under constant medication. I could not add to her problems with my misfortunes,” Linet says as she cuddles her son.
“Three months into the pregnancy, I had not told anyone. I was uncertain of so many issues. Neither my mother nor teachers ever talked to me about sexuality, contraceptives and the risks associated with teenage pregnancy.”
Challenges of teenage pregnancies continue to burden young people particularly the girl child who is not empowered on Sexual Reproductive Health Rights.
Just like Linet, many other girls who have faced teenage pregnancy or been sexually infected with disease resolve to drastic measures as a result of prejudice and discrimination from their own families, peers and the community at large.
Aside from teenage pregnancies, access to ante-natal care among teenage girls and mothers has been hampered by various factors such as an individual’s negative perception, limited knowledge on sexuality and restricted awareness about ante-natal care, structural barriers, family members, and socio-economic issues.
Globally, 95 percent of births among women aged 15-19 occurs in low and middle income countries. The proportion of births that takes place during adolescence represents more than 50 percent of the births in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Adolescent pregnancies are high risk obstetric occurrences hence availability and ease of access to ante-natal clinics provides opportunities to recognize and treat obstetric complications and hence enhancing the pregnancy outcome for mother and child.
This is a fact that has not been realized since lack of friendly ante-natal clinics makes teenage mothers shy away from attending clinics oblivious of the dangers they are exposing their unborn child and themselves to.
Most teenage mothers dodge attending ante-natal care clinics because reproductive health services are designed for adult mothers and not appropriate for teenagers, they represent a vulnerable group that needs consideration.
Young mothers often feel odd being in clinics with older mothers with the age difference making them perceive themselves as inferior and being treated as such in the clinics.
Lack of social support and ill preparedness by the family and community has failed to enable them utilize and access the ante-natal clinics forcing them to seek alternative means to survive such as unsafe abortion.
Majority of girls between the ages 13 and 17 get pregnant unwillingly and unknowingly coupled with the facts that sometimes they get infected with STIs including HIV, further complicating their seeking of ante-natal services.
Though adolescent pregnancy has negative socio-economic effects on the girl and her family, there is need to have teenage friendly ante-natal clinics by improving accessibility, availability and utilization of services to the adolescent mother.
Alternatively, there should be clinics that target the teenage mothers as most of them usually lack awareness of availability and necessity of attending ante-natal clinics. Some of the girls are traumatized by their predicament, and generally lack support because they are mainly dependants.
There is also need for specialized training of health workers to be able to handle young mothers appropriately, educate them on issues of family planning, HIV testing and counselling and treatment of STIs instead of reprimanding them.
According to Gordon Ochieng’, Youth Program Coordinator at Family Health Options Kenya (FHOK) there are a lot of myths and misconceptions about contraceptives, family planning and more importantly ante-natal care.
Ochieng says it is important that teenagers are sensitized and educated adequately on the importance of visiting ante-natal clinics to avert any possible misconceptions at the detriment of teenage mothers.
Lack of teenage friendly ante-natal care services seems to be a challenge in helping reduce maternal mortality ratio which is a priority in the Sustainable Development Goals.
Ochieng’ further adds that awareness and sensitization programmes put in place by the government, non-governmental organizations and other relevant bodies on teenage pregnancies and use of contraceptives should be vibrant enough to address and demystify all the misconceptions.
The government has subsequently stepped up measures to enhance accessibility to health care services. For instance, on June 1, 2013, President Uhuru Kenyatta launched a noble cause that lifted financial barriers associated with access to maternal health care, in that all mothers who chose to deliver in public health facilities enjoy free services including those that are pregnancy related.