Kenya: Survey - Poverty Behind Early Exposure to Sex in Homa Bay

30 November 2020

A survey conducted in Homa Bay County has found that poverty is the main reason for early exposure to sex.

The study found that the age of sexual debut in the area is 12-13 though many, as young as nine, are already sexually active.

The study was conducted last June by Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and LVCT Health, a non-governmental organisation that pioneered the first three HIV/Aids voluntary counselling and testing centres in Kenya and which has offices in at least 25 of the 47 counties.

The report that followed, titled Unintended Teenage Pregnancies and HIV amongst Adolescents and Young People, covers the drivers of unintended pregnancies, HIV/Aids and violence among adolescents, and the social and economic issues in Homa Bay town and Ndhiwa.

"Adolescents in the region engaged in transactional sex with older men and their peers as 'sponsors' because they lacked basic needs or wanted emotional protection," states the report launched on Friday.

It adds that sexual activities also take place within the school environment and that there is consent by both boys and girls.

The report further highlights risky behaviour, including multiple partnerships, drug abuse, inter-generational and casual sex.

"Cultural practices such as disco matanga also present risk factors for unintended pregnancies and HIV due to condomless sex," said ODI representative Fiona Samuels.

Main drivers

The survey cited peer pressure and the modelling of parents' or caregivers' behaviour as some of the drivers of unintended pregnancies among teenagers.

It further noted the effect of peer pressure on the statistics, saying friends who conceive early encourage others to take the same route.

The report adds that many cases of unintended pregnancies were recorded in rural areas, where there is little or no access to information on family planning.

The figures were also high among teenagers living in female-headed households or with grandmothers, those living in violent households who usually resort to running away and marrying older men, and those from poor households.

The report further notes that their parents are unprepared to talk about sex, according to Ms Samuels.

Ms Samuels further revealed that 32 per cent of girls aged 15 to 19 are mothers and that responsibility for the unintended pregnancies rests more on the girls than their mothers.

It was also revealed that 52 per cent of women give birth before 18, hence the need for a valiant fight to lower the numbers.

Recommendations

The report recommended education for both parents and adolescents on sexual reproductive health (SRH) and HIV/Aids, and development of programmes to support discussions on sensitive topics.

The county was also advised to implement community-based awareness programmes targeting community and religious leaders with information on SRH and HIV.

The researchers said Homa Bay should also target reference groups that uphold harmful norms so as to change gender norms and practices concerning unintended pregnancies.

They also noted the need for balanced messaging about HIV/Aids considering that the disease is "no longer feared".

In addition, they asked the county to consistently provide a budget for these initiatives. Lilian Otiso from LVCT Health said county-level budgets are not dedicated to specific population groups, including adolescents, hence the reliance on donors.

The survey involved 112 participants and took the forms of in-depth analyses, focus group discussions, inter-generational trio and key informant interviews.

This initiative is a partnership by ODI, LVCT, United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef), the Ministry of Health (MOH) and Homa Bay.

Governor Cyprian Awiti called for a legal framework to address issues raised in the report.

Other remarks

Speaking during the launch of the report, 19-year-old Elizabeth Achangi, a Form Four student, reminded young people living with HIV that it cannot stop them from realising their dreams.

"I have learnt to live with it," she said.

Bertha Auma, a 19-year-old Form Three student, said she got pregnant at 15 before joining high school. She asked all stakeholders to support sex education for teenagers.

"I want to be a clinical officer in future and introduce other young people to sex education," she said.

Maniza Zaman, Unicef's representative to Kenya, noted a 60 per cent reduction in HIV infections among teenagers across Kenya,

She praised the organisations that collaborated in the initiative and said Kenya can be a model for other countries in the region.

While noting that Homa Bay is second in the country in terms of the number of unintended pregnancies, Woman Representative Gladys Wanga said data and research are key to informing policy.

Ms Wanga said her office runs an initiative called "Mama County Says", which helps educate girls on various subjects.

Homa Bay Health executive Richard Muga said the findings will help the county find solutions to issues such as the high HIV burden.

Dr Stephen Kaliti, a reproductive health official at the Ministry of Health, said they were working on teen-friendly reproductive health materials.

Ms Margaret Kobia, the Cabinet Secretary for Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs, also attended the function.

Ms Kobia spoke about the distribution of sanitary towels, saying the government is still looking for a way to deliver them to homes as some students are yet to report back following closure of schools due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

"We are discussing the best way forward with county commissioners. Girls who are currently in school have already received the products," she said.

llidigu@ke.nationmedia.com

More From: Nation

Don't Miss

AllAfrica publishes around 600 reports a day from more than 130 news organizations and over 500 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify allAfrica.com as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.