Teenage pregnancies a challenge to demographic dividends

Kibera slum is one of the most populated areas in Kenya.The number will however keep rising if teenage pregnancy and family planning is not taken seriously.Picture:David Mbewa
Kibera slum is one of the most populated areas in Kenya.The number will however keep rising if teenage pregnancy and family planning is not taken seriously.Picture:David Mbewa

At only 14 years, Marylyn Achieng was shocked and devastated when she found out that she was pregnant.

She had only engaged in sex once, with a man who she thought loved her. The pregnancy was a turning point in her life because for one she was a class eight Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examinations candidate. Secondly, the father of the child was not a reliable person.

Achieng tried to hide her pregnancy for a while but it proved to be difficult because the signs started to show. Worse still, her mother also got pregnant at the same time.

Achieng delivered five days before her mother and they had to share a maternity ward at Kenyatta National Hospital because she developed complications and had to stay longer.

Almost three years now, Achieng is yet to recover from the early and unplanned for pregnancy that disrupted her life.

The second born in a family of seven siblings, Achieng hoped that through education she would be able to get her family break out of poverty. However, with her education disrupted, this has proven to be difficult because.

“Luckily my parents allowed me to finish primary school a year after delivery. It was, however, very difficult for me because I still had to take care of my baby,” says Achieng.

Impact on education

Since she could not afford a baby sitter, Achieng had to leave the child with her mother and the baby would be brought for her to breastfeed during break time. Although she managed to sit for the final primary education examinations, Achieng failed to perform well to join high school.

“My only chance of joining high school was if I passed with flying colours so that I could find a sponsor or apply for a scholarship because my parents cannot afford secondary school fees,” says Achieng. She explains. “This was not possible because I spent sleepless nights taking care of the baby and hardly had enough time to study.”

Achieng was forced to source for jobs to enable her could support her family and child who live in Kibera slum.

Achieng is not alone in the dilemma of teenage mothers. She is among many adolescent girls who have left stakeholders wondering how to deal with teenage pregnancies. These cases are now leading in discussions on when adolescents should be introduced to Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) and including use of contraceptives.

Speaking at a Media Forum on Population and Development under the Policy Advocacy and Communication Enhanced (PACE)  project of the Population Reference Bureau (PRB), Ms Rachel Mutuku, Director of Reproductive Health at Population Services Kenya (PS Kenya) noted that one in five girls aged between 15-19 years has begun child bearing.

Mutuku noted that 51 percent of unmarried sexually active adolescent girls between 15 and 19 years in Kenya have an unmet need for family planning.

“Some of these girls keep their children but unfortunately unwanted pregnancy also leads to unsafe abortion,” reiterated Mutuku. She noted: “About 20,000 girls and young women seek care for abortion related complications each year.”

Mutuku reiterated: “Unsafe abortion remains the leading cause of maternal mortality and morbidity especially among girls below 20 years.”

Personalised approaches

However, Mutuku pointed out, adolescents and youths are not homogenous. She further explained that a 15-19 year-old married adolescent boy or girl in the rural area does not experience the same challenges as a 15-19 year married adolescent boy or girl in the urban area.

“Youth in Kenya are consistently identified as an ever changing yet important population that requires specific and targeted attention to ensure that initiatives meaningfully connect to them and elicit the desired response,” Mutuku reiterated.

For instance, as mentioned above Achieng lives in Nairobi, which is an urban area, but she is trapped in the challenges brought about by living in an informal settlement.

According to Achieng’s mother, her daughter was not old enough for them to begin having a discussion on contraceptives, leave alone sex. She never imagined that that her daughter had already had her sexual debut.

Dr Joel Gondi, head of Reproductive and Maternal Health at the Ministry of Health said the Government had put in place a few interventions to address Sexual Reproductive Health Rights of adolescents and youth as well as safe maternal care for all Kenyan women.

These include the National Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health (ASRH) Policy 2015, National Guidelines on Provision of Adolescent and Youth Friendly Services 2016 and Family Planning Guidelines 2016. Others include reviewed data collection tools to collect age and sex disaggregated data capturing 10-19 years old and free maternity services for all pregnant adolescents, youth and women.

However, there is a concern among Kenyans why despite all these interventions teenage pregnancy is still as high as 18 percent while 22 counties register more than the national average.

Challenges experienced

Gondi explained that some of the interventions still require time for the results to be felt. He noted that some counties are notorious for adolescent pregnancies due to cultural and social-economic issues. Some of those counties are Narok, Homa Bay and West Pokot that have registered 40, 33 and 29 percent respectively of adolescent pregnancies in 2016.

Albert Obbuyi, Kenya Country Coordinator for Champions for Change, and Executive Director Centre for Adolescent Study expressed concerns about the impact that the current trend has on Demographic Dividends.

“If we continue having many children per family, and adolescent parents then we will end up with very few bread winners and many dependents,” reiterated Obbuyi. He explained: “This means that we will spend all our money on feeding and taking care of the family and nothing will be left for investment and economic growth.”

The forum was organized by the USAID funded Policy Advocacy and  Communication Enhanced (PACE) Project of the Population Reference Bureau in partnership with the Kenya Editor’s Guild.

%d bloggers like this: