31 March 2019

Kenya: Culture Blamed for High Number of Teen Pregnancies in Busia

That 11,977 girls in Busia got pregnant in 2018 is not what has shocked State officials but that 358 of them were 10 to 14 years old.

More shocking are the people responsible: men with families.

Data from the county health department shows that Teso South Sub-County with 2,046 cases and Matayaos (2,665) are the most affected while Bunyala has the least number of pregnant teens.

KANGAROO COURTS

The numbers could be higher as many families do not report the cases. The girls do not go to hospitals for fear of their details being taken.

County Health Director Melsa Lutomia says the risk of health complications is high, putting a lot of strain on the budgets.

Dr Lutomia said apart from cultural practices that perpetuate teen pregnancies, there is a general lack of knowledge across the Busia community.

"It is not surprising most of victims do not know that sex leads to pregnancy," Dr Lutomia said.

The tight-knit nature of the community is a hurdle to addressing the problem. Usually, the children are defiled by close relatives and instead of the issue reaching the courts, relatives opt for alternative dispute resolution mechanisms.

Budalang'i MP Raphael Wanjala says chiefs and their assistants are to blame for the increased teen pregnancies in the region.

According to the lawmaker, the administrators do not apprehend culprits "while others preside over kangaroo courts".

"I understand six Busagawa Primary School girls got pregnant but their parents are negotiating with the culprits," he said.

Dr Lutomia has since taken the decision to seek help in educating the community and encouraging arrests and prosecutions. Help came in the form of a community public meetings, commonly called barazas.

ANTE-NATAL CLINIC

In Mau Mau village near Budalang'i, about 150 people gather at building whose construction stalled years ago.

A villager named Andere wants area sub-chief Dennis Wanjala to explain when he and others are getting help to build proper toilets.

Another wants an update on school fees paid by the CDF while many others want a vocational training centre built in Bunyinyi.

After the questions, Mr Wanjala -- a reproductive health officer -- stands to speak.

He starts with giving the number of women in the area who died for failing to attend ante-natal clinics.

Then he talks of 1,021 expectant women lacking iron. Mr Wanjala tells the men to get involved in "women matters".

"If your wife tells you the baby is not playing in her womb, that is a sign of danger. The baby could die and that means your wife's life is in danger too," the administrator says.

Then he touches on reproductive health and teen pregnancy. There is silence as he switches between Kiswahili and Luhya.

After telling them that having sex with a teenager is a crime, he opens the door for questions.

MEN CRINGE

"How a can a 10-year-old get pregnant? Has she even began having monthly periods?" a man asks.

Another wants to know why a girl would die during delivery when she is "mature". A third wants to know if a child can have HIV.

The chief then asks the men if they have ever seen their wives giving birth.

He explains how a baby grows in the womb and what would happen if it dies before delivery. The men cringe.

The questions, at times asked in vernacular, show how ignorant most men are.

With men who know little, it means addressing the challenges of reproductive health in Busia will remain a herculean task for a while.

"Men have a lot of influence on these matters because they are the decision-makers and have the resources, including money," Mr Wanjala told the Sunday Nation later.

He added that men could be the problem but also the solution.

DEFILEMENT

Mr Patrick Mukolwe, a children's officer, alluded to the contradiction by pointing out to Port Victoria where men take advantage of the poverty in families to lure girls into sex.

"If a child goes to bed hungry and is offered Sh50 for food by a man the following day, she will likely give in to his advances," he said.

He added that it is men who meet during Kangaroo court sessions to deliberate on rape and defilement cases, "most of which involve close family members".

"We sometimes take these people to court but witnesses do not show up. That means evidence is not gathered," he said.

"We have laws but implementing them is difficult because of these gaps."

That is why the strategy has started from the grassroots.

Mr Asa Lelei of Action Against Hunger, the organisation that supports the barazas, said the conversations have been helpful as they have made men realise that they need to support women.

Security agencies in Busia County had not responded to the Sunday Nation by the time we were going to press.

Kenya

Legalizing Gay Sex is Just the Right Thing to Do

In the run-up to the expected judgement challenging section 162 and 165 of the Penal Code of Kenya that outlaws same-sex… Read more »

See What Everyone is Watching

Copyright © 2019 The Nation. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com). To contact the copyright holder directly for corrections — or for permission to republish or make other authorized use of this material, click here.