The thought that your teenage daughter is practicing sexual intercourse always seems too far-fetched for many parents. But the reality is, at least half of teenagers are actively having sex. During a 2015-2017 survey, 42% of never-married female teenagers and 38% of never-married male teenagers had ever had sexual intercourse. Unfortunately, there aren’t any recent data on the statistics of teenagers having sex.
School closures and lockdowns have been one of the effects of COVID19, causing teenagers to spend more time at home and delve into different activities that don’t include schooling. Parents on the other hand have been busy trying to earn money during the pandemic not thinking that their children would involve themselves in sexual activities. But as they say, ignorance is no defense.
Over the past few months in lockdown, 152,000 Kenyan teenage girls became pregnant — a 40% increase in the country’s monthly average. One survey conducted by the Kenya Health Information System found that 3,964 girls under the age of 19 were pregnant in Machakos County alone. These numbers, from early July, are some of the earliest pieces of evidence linking the COVID-19 pandemic to unplanned pregnancies.
Jackie Bosibori, a 17 year old girl from Kibera wept in pain after finding out she was pregnant, wondering how they could afford to feed an extra mouth despite the fact they were facing eviction and there was hardly enough food to feed her six siblings. “If i was in school, this could not have happened,” said Bosibori.
Recent reports on the increased rate of teenage pregnancies across the country during the COVID -19 lock down have been met with shock, anger and disbelief. Even though the gravity of teenage pregnancies is not new in Kenya, parents just can’t believe cases of unplanned teenage pregnancies have skyrocketed that much. Data from the Demographic and Health Surveys show that almost 2 out of 10 girls between the ages of 15 and 19 are reported to be pregnant or have had a child already. However, it is quite unfortunate that this trend has been fairly consistent for more than two decades now with little change in prevalence between 1993 and 2014.
Causes of Teenage Pregnancies
There are many causes of teenage pregnancies, one of them being lack of access to reproductive health services. This being one of the major causes of teenage pregnancies, it is important for girls to have access to appropriate healthcare services and education. We cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that peer pressure is another contributor to many early teenage pregnancies. Once a peer has gone through the sexual intercourse road, many advise their peers to do the same in turn getting pregnant during the process. Another cause is poverty that causes many young girls to do just about anything to gain access to basic needs. With this in mind, many men have taken advantage of teen girls, unfortunately some of whom are their relatives. During the COVID-19 pandemic, some teenage girls engaged in sexual activities to earn money to support their families, a task that was unfortunately encouraged by some of their parents. For some of them, this was a quick way to earn money for buying food, since their parents had lost jobs due to the job cuts experienced as a result of the pandemic.
Increased rate in teenage pregnancies is a major challenge for socioeconomic development as young girls are deprived of the opportunity to further their education and attain their career goals. It also increases their chances of health complications. According to World Health Organization reports, pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death among girls aged 15-19 years. It is therefore important that the government ensures that girls and women get access to sexual reproductive health services.
While cases of teenage pregnancies remain high, there is a need for it to be at the top of the government’s agenda. The government should not treat the issue as a by the way as this issue in one way or another affects the future of Kenya.
However, it is unfortunate that the government only takes this issue seriously when there is a public uproar on the high rate of teenage pregnancies. The last time the issue made headlines and drew public attention was during the national examination period in 2018, with reports of several young girls pregnant or giving birth while sitting for their national exams. If the government doesn’t do something, let individuals, schools and non-governmental organizations come up with sustainable ways that will help teenage girls get access to reproductive health services.
Let us all help our teenage girls stay safe and free from unplanned pregnancies, especially during this difficult time when we’re undergoing a pandemic.
Share with us in the comments any ways in which you think we can all contribute towards ending this pandemic.