A story by Salome Nthenya Nzuki from Nairobi, Kenya.
She thinks addressing teenage pregnancy is key to ensuring girl child education and achieving Sustainable Development Goals.
Read Salome’s opinion here…
Teenage pregnancy in Kenya is increasing at an alarming rate. Girls are becoming mothers at a very tender age. Statistics from the Kenya demographic and health survey show that 15% of girls aged between 15 to 19 years have had at least one birth. 103 out of 1000 pregnancies are attributed to girls in the mentioned age brackets. The situation could be worse than projected with a possibility that not all cases are recorded.
What is the impact of this skyrocketing trend of teenage pregnancies on Education? The future looks very bleak for girls who fall pregnant while in school. In most cases the girls are forced to halt their education. Firstly, teenage girls who fall pregnant are stigmatized in their communities. There is absolutely no support structure at home as well as at their schools. People talk about them behind their back wherever they go. Would they not feel isolated in an environment like that? Would they feel comfortable to continue with school? Absolutely not!
Others are sent away from school so as to not corrupt their peers with ‘loose’ morals. Some parents care little for the welfare of their girls. It would bother them less if the girls are not in school citing punishment for their ‘wrongdoing.’
Tackling the issue of teenage pregnancy is always one sided. The root cause of this issue is never sought. Only girls get ‘punished’ for their ‘wrongdoing’, but do they fall pregnant on their own? Has anyone ever tried to find out who impregnates them?
In most cases teenage girls fall pregnant while involved in a relationship with older men. Others are from an unconsented sex, which is rape. Another percentage however is from consensual relationships with the girls’ equally young boyfriends.
While society condemns girls for being sexually ‘loose’, It usually seems like the men in the picture are praised for their actions. It is allegedly a proof of their masculinity. No one cares about the girls.
Negative cultural practices coupled with patriarchy make teenage pregnancies seem a normal affair, and an issue that is only blamed on girls. In some communities, girls are married off at an early age. If a man impregnates a girl but proposes to marry her, the matter is quietly settled, and obliviously the girl has to drop out of school. Poverty has made parents value bride price more than a girl’s education. Bride price is an immediate relief from poverty.
Poverty too is another factor that draws girls to sexual predators. Older men prey on girls whose families are poor, so they can sleep with them in exchange of money or marriage. During my work as a volunteer teacher at a school in a Semi- Arid area, girls revealed to me that tapped water in a man’s compound was enough reason to move in with him. They’d rather do that than walk kilometers in search of water after school. Traditional gender roles therefore overwhelm school girls prompting them to escape to their older ‘boyfriends’ where life is seemingly easier.
The Kenyan constitution guarantees the right to education access for all children irrespective of their gender. However this dream is yet to come true for the Kenyan girl. This might be a problem in most of African countries.
Issues such as teenage pregnancy, child marriage, school based violence and gender based violence are the perpetrators of a girl child not being able to fully access education as equally as a boy child. The importance of educating girls cannot be underestimated.
Educated girls make better parents, workers, partners and citizens. By completing school, girls get married at a later age thus developing their careers and become successful, responsible and independent adults. This enables them to contribute to the country’s Gross domestic product, spurring economic growth. Girls are further empowered by education to make choices regarding their sexual choices and reproductive health care. This reduces cases of diseases, child and maternal mortality.
There is an urgent need to curb the cases of teenage pregnancies in this country to enable girls complete their education. This will see Kenya reduce poverty, hunger and inequalities while ensuring good health and well-being. Basically, educating girls will translate into Kenya achieving a good number of the sustainable development goals.
Parents need sensitization to value girl child education. They need to ensure that their children are safe at home and on their way to school. There is also need for a shift from cultural practices that demean the girl child. Girls, just like the boys can contribute to societal development if educated.