Kenya is facing a serious teenage pregnancy crisis according to a report released by a government agency Monday.
One in five girls aged between 15 and 19 are pregnant according to the National Council on Population and Development (NCPD) report titled Teenage Pregnancy Situation in Kenya and that was released in a Nairobi hotel.
Narok County leads the list of shame with 40 percent of girls (two in every five) pregnant followed by Homa Bay (33 per cent), West Pokot (29 per cent), Tana River and Nyamira (28 per cent).
The Narok figures are double the national average of one in every five girls being expectant.
At six per cent, Murang’a County has the lowest rates followed by Nyeri (seven percent), Embu (eight percent), Elgeyo Marakwet (nine percent) and Nyandarua (10 percent). The worrying situation is an indication of trends having remained largely unchanged despite efforts by the government, child rights activists and non-governmental organisations to reduce the incidence of minors becoming pregnant.
In 2018, the National Aids Control Council reported that 430,825 teens aged between 10-19 attended at least one antenatal clinic session in a public health facility.
In 2019, the figure dropped considerably to 379,573 but serious concerns remain over the relatively high numbers of minors engaging in unprotected sex with young and old men. A total of 20,828 teenagers aged between 10 and 14 years were recorded as having visited health facilities for antenatal care. Among the expectant teenagers aged between 10 and 14 years, Nairobi led with 2,432, followed by Nakuru with 1,748, Kajiado (1,523), Kericho (1,006), Homa Bay (957) and Garissa (901).
On the other hand, only 14 teenagers from Isiolo County were pregnant, as compared to Lamu (22), (Embu (25), Kilifi (53), and Elgeyo Marakwet (59).
The scenario rapidly shifted as the report looked at older girls, with Nairobi recording 24,106 pregnant girls aged between 15 and 19 years. Nakuru was next with 17,019 followed by Meru (15,353), Narok (14,052), Bungoma (13,920), Kiambu (13,128) and Trans Nzoia (11,687).
Counties with the lowest number for pregnant teens aged between 15 and 19 were Lamu (1,285), Embu (2,126), Wajir (2,684), Isiolo (2,851) and Nyeri (2,508). Presenting the figures, assistant director of population Lucy Kimondo said many of the girls ended up severely depressed with some committing suicide.
“There is also a very high rate of fistula among these girls. Imagine a 10-year-old girl trying to push a baby during birth,” she said.
Ms Kimondo identified sexual violence as major driver for the crisis, saying a girl younger than 18 cannot consent to sex.
The Sexual Offences Act prohibits adults from engaging in sex with minors, with jail terms ranging from life to 15 years for those found guilty of the offence. The vice has however remained rampant in the country, with a low conviction rate in courts for most suspects charged with sexually violating minors.
According to the report, some of the causes of teenage pregnancy in the country include poverty, peer influence, drug abuse, lack of youth-friendly services in health facilities, early marriage, rape and defilement.
The NCPD blamed poor parenting and an education system that has ignored the need to make teenagers aware of their sexuality. Among the reasons listed in the report are “inadequate parental and curriculum guidance”.
The document that paints a worrying picture of a country that prides itself as having made strides in education, economic growth, technology and democratic governance still grappling with the prospect of its young citizens becoming parents before completing their education.
The NCPD lists some of the consequences of teenage pregnancy as depression, suicide, abortion, interrupted schooling, poor maternal health, morbidity and death, birth-related complications like fistula, and early marriages.
“An estimated 26 per cent of teenagers in poor households are likely to fall pregnant compared to 10 per cent of their peers in wealthier households,” the document says.
A 2016 report by the Faith to Action Network in Kilifi County identified “cultural practices such as dances and funeral attendance where the girls have no parental presence as making them susceptible to early sexual debut”.
“Poverty drives young girls to work as sex entertainers to earn a living … including food, clothing and electronics, leading to pregnancies,” the Kilifi study said.