Teen pregnancy crisis in Kenya: this is beyond COVID-19 - DON SANTO

“Art is a vital part of life. For as long as artists create vulgar content, and for as long there continues to be a market for it, we are a long way from reducing teenage pregnancies. However, we can apply the law of supply and demand; hoard the goods.” - DON SANTO

Kenyan netizens exploded when a disturbing story was released by the media in June this year: “Close to 4,000 school girls impregnated in Kenya during COVID-19 lockdown”, read one headline. “Alarm as 3,964 girls impregnated in Machakos County in five months”, stated another


The articles all cited data from a recently released Kenya government health information survey, and most attributed the high pregnancy numbers to the COVID-19 lockdown. That seemed to make sense. Since the pandemic hit Kenya in mid-March, healthcare providers have been warning about its potential to increase rates of teenage pregnancies. 

“Art is a vital part of life. For as long as artists create vulgar content, and for as long there continues to be a market for it, we are a long way from reducing teenage pregnancies. However, we can apply the law of supply and demand; hoard the goods.” - DON SANTO

School closures have cut off girls from teachers who can sound the alarm in suspected cases of abuse at home, and students have been left idle and often unchaperoned by busy parents. Restrictions on movement have also made it harder for girls to access contraceptives and family planning services, and mandatory curfews have trapped girls in homes with predatory family members and neighbours.


But many of the articles published last month failed to put the numbers of teen pregnancies into context. In Kenya, high-risk early pregnancy has long been a societal challenge. Government demographic data from 2014, the latest available, show that 15 percent of girls aged 15-19 had already given birth, and another three percent were pregnant with their first child – the highest rates in East Africa.


Underpinning any COVID-19-related rise in teen pregnancies are other significant challenges, including insufficient funding for reproductive health services and a lack of comprehensive sex education in schools – which have contributed to Kenya’s alarming numbers.


Lack of sex education 

In 2013, the Kenyan government committed to scaling up sex education, beginning courses in primary schools. But efforts to make good on this promise have been met with fierce opposition from conservative and religious groups. 


Currently, when sex education is taught at all, courses focus largely on HIV prevention and abstinence — which means students’ knowledge of reproductive and sexual health is often limited.


Parents tell me, ‘Those things are taught in school. We do not talk to our children about sex. That is a taboo. So we expect that the teachers should tell our children about sex and about how to protect themselves,’


I totally disagree with the above assumption and useless taboos. As a parent, I believe you are responsible for the well being of your child. Period. This is a responsibility you cannot delegate. As much as I do not support uncontrolled training of pupils on sex education, if parents did their job, we would not be letting our children to learn sex in the hands of strangers. What about the curious nature? No.

Kenya’s parliament is currently debating legislation mandating age-appropriate sex education in schools. 

But religious leaders and cultural conservatives have launched an aggressive campaign against the bill, arguing that such a curriculum runs counter to Kenyan cultural values. They’ve taken to the airwaves and social media platforms to encourage a public backlash against the bill. 


What it means for young girls 

Pregnancy and childbirth complications are the leading cause of death among girls aged 15–19 years globally, according to the WHO. A 2017 Kenyan study into maternal deaths revealed that nine percent of women who died in the hospital were teenagers. 

Of pregnant teenagers who survive childbirth, nearly 98 percent drop out of school, research conducted in Kenya last year by Plan International shows. 

Of pregnant teenagers who survive childbirth, nearly 98 percent drop out of school.

Don Santo is an author, artiste, record executive, entrepreneur and leader of the Klassik Nation. He consults in Leadership, Governance and Business Development matters.

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