Kenya: Teen Pregnancies - Which Way Forward?

State officials discuss rising cases, propose measures including data base on teen pregnancies, parent education programs

Senior government officials held a meeting last weekend to find a lasting solution to the rising cases of teenage pregnancies in the country.

The meeting, convened by the National Gender and Equality Commission (NGEC), proposed a National Action Plan to combat child pregnancies.

NGEC chairperson Dr Joyce Mutinda said the consultative forum was as a result of concerns raised on the increasing numbers of teenage pregnancy in the country.

She said pregnancy of girls' aged 18 and below was as a result of defilement or incest, which calls for immediate action to arrest the situation.

Ms Mutinda added that State agencies, non-State actors, private sectors and parents must put measures in place to protect children from sexual violation.

SEX EDUCATION

She proposed the rolling out of age-appropriate sex education that will be undertaken by special teachers and urged parents to step up their responsibilities in raising their children.

The government should also establish rescue centres where girls at risk of being violated can be sheltered," said Dr Mutinda.

She added that Parliament should expedite the amendment of the Children Act 2001 to make it comply with the Constitution.

GEC chief executive officer Betty Sungura called for action from all stakeholders to find a lasting solution.

"What we are experiencing is a pandemic within a pandemic and, therefore, we need a robust discussion to get solutions to the existing problem," said Ms Sungura.

DATA

Labour and Social Protection Cabinet Secretary Mr Simon Chelugui said lack of coherent data on child pregnancies in the country is a major concern.

Mr Chelugui said from July 2019 to June 2010, only 516 cases of child pregnancies had been reported across the 47 counties by children officers.

The CS added there were also 481 cases of child marriages, 2,318 cases of defilement and 152 cases of incest reported in the same period.

According to the data by the CS, Machakos County led in cases of child pregnancies with 46 cases followed by Bungoma (40), Kwale (25), Kakamega (23), Kilifi (20) and Migori (20).

"I am surprised with the numbers. Either there have been exaggeration of numbers that we have been seeing or cases of child pregnancies are not being reported," he said.

To turn the tide, Mr Chelugui said there is need to engage children on sexual related matters, develop data based on child pregnancies in conjunction with the Ministry of Health, rolling out of public awareness on children sexuality and parent education programmes.

ANTENATAL CARE

Health Chief Administrative Secretary Dr Mercy Mwangangi said for the last six months, 1,413 adolescents aged 10-14 years had reported to various health facilities for antenatal care.

Dr Mwangangi added that another 30,000 girls aged 15-19 had also visited various hospitals from January to June this year for antenatal care.

"There is a need to review reporting tools to enable more efficient data collection. We also need to have peer mentors composed of young mothers who have undergone the experience in order to help reduce the problem," she said.

An official from Unicef said the current statistics on teenage pregnancies are worrying.

According to the official, one in five girls (22.3 per cent) had gotten pregnant before the age of 18 by 2019.

CHILD PROTECTION

"There needs to be shared responsibility between the government, community, parents and all the other requisite stakeholders to end the menace," he said.

The official added that child protection systems and community-based protection systems among them volunteers, community and religious leaders, and parents need to be strengthened.

He rooted for the amendment of the Children's Act 2001 and Sexual Offences Act .2006 to make it more punitive for child predators.

Principal Secretary in-charge of Gender Prof Colleta Suda said cultural, social and economic issues helping propel the vices must be addressed.

"The full responsibility remains with the government, community, family and the Judiciary to ensure we have a society free of teenage pregnancies. Various actors need to be assigned responsibilities to help them tame the menace," said Prof Suda.

The Chairperson of Kenya Women Parliamentary Association (Kewopa) Ms Gathoni Wamuchomba said lack of data on teenage pregnancies was making it hard for leaders to make timely interventions.

SEXUAL VIOLENCE

NGEC commissioner Priscilla Nyokabi said amendment of the Children Act 2001 is paramount in taming the menace and ensuring justice is served for girls who have been sexually violated.

"Sexual violence related matter is a criminal one that require the law to take its course against the perpetrators," said Nyokabi.

Makueni Senator Mutula Kilonza said lack of a policy by the police on Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) and teenage pregnancies was making the eradication of the problem difficult.

Mr Kilonzo added that the collection and storage of evidence related to SGBV was being done poorly, making conviction of perpetrators hard.

"We need to be serious as a country because we have a problem at hand. Nothing seems to work despite numerous paperwork and boardroom meetings," he said.

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