Kenya: Rising Teen Pregnancies Jolt University Student Into Action

30 September 2020

Casty Micheni from Kinoro, Meru County was taken aback by media reports on a rise in teenage pregnancies and what has come to be known as 'sex for pads'.

The former Mount Kenya University Students Association vice president was jolted to action and kicked off an online campaign to address the conundrum spurred by the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to Meru County health department, about 5,270 teenage pregnancies were recorded in the region between January and June this year.

Ms Micheni, who is set to graduate with a Bachelors in Business Management later this year. To remedy the situation, she rallied youth leaders through her Tujijenge Mashinani Initiative organisation.

Reproductive health

The initiative has since gone offline and, together with other youth leaders, they engage boys and girls on reproductive health talks besides donating sanitary pads and boxers.

"Since Covid-19 pandemic hit Kenya in mid-March, healthcare providers started reporting a surge in teenage pregnancies. I read news reports of rise out of incest. There was a report of an administrator in Embu urging men to dress their wives in uniform to avoid preying on school girls."

"We heard reports of teenagers caught in sex orgies in Western and girls from Baringo having have sex with men for pads. This was traumatizing and I needed to take action," recounts the founder and chairperson of Tujijenge Mashinani Initiative.

Ms Micheni says she mobilised the youth leaders and friends to raise money for sanitary pads besides mentoring teenagers in her home area, Igoji West.

She notes that while the country is awash with reports of teen mothers, no one talks about the teen fathers.

Online campaign

"This is why our approach is different; we talk to both boys and girls on the need to abstain. Most teenage girls are impregnated by their age mates but the boys go on with life. The online campaign to raise awareness on teenage pregnancies was very successful. We held our first offline meetings in August, reaching more than 500 teenagers," she says.

Ms Micheni who has ambitions of vying for a ward representative seat in 2022, says the crisis has exposed the parenting gap in the country.

Increased access to adult content on TV and online, absent parents, poverty and peer pressure are among the contributing factors to the teen pregnancy crisis, she says.

"The closure of schools cut off students from teachers who have been doing well in sounding the alarm on suspected cases. Teenagers have been left idle and often not guided by busy parents. Girls who have been relying on schools to access sanitary pads are left without the vital supplies. These have contributed a lot to the crisis," Ms Micheni adds.

Constant instruction

Through the Tujijenge Mashinani Initiative, Ms Micheni says they want to keep the alarm bells ringing to ensure no more girls fall into the trap.

She says churches and other institutions dealing with teenagers need to keep reminding them of abstaining from sex and other vices.

"Teenagers need to be kept busy in constructive activities. They need to be listened to by their parents. They need constant instruction and vital information on reproductive health to keep them safe. If parents and guardians do not play this role, they end up getting the information from wrong sources," the former student leader observes.

She calls upon parents to shed off the fear of talking to their children about reproductive health and hygiene.

The church, she says, has also been quick in condemning teenagers who fall pregnant rather than being in the frontline providing the right information.

Ms Micheni is partnering with Meru Passionate Riders, a group of motorbike riders, on October 4, to donate sanitary pads and boxers to more than 1,000 teenagers at Mugae in Buuri, Meru County.

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