According to Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2014 nearly one in five girls aged 15-19 has already had a baby or are pregnant, the latest available statistics, show that 15 percent of girls aged 15-19 had already given birth, and another three percent were pregnant with their first child making it the highest rates in East Africa.
The year 2020 teen pregnancies spiked and hit the headlines across the country;
“Teen Pregnancies Spike in Kenya as Schools Remain Shuttered”
“Kenya’s teen pregnancy crisis: More than COVID-19 is to blame”
Individuals, corporate, organizations and institutions took up advocating, sensitizing and creating initiatives around this issue and more headlines made it to the front pages.
‘Teen mothers in Kenya become powerful advocates for change’
“[“Funga Miguu” initiative, aimed at ending teenage pregnancies in Kajiado.]”
Teenage pregnancies and SGBV statistics have been on the rise, creating concern and alarm in the country and especially among faith communities.
Inter-religious Council of Kenya in partnership with Diakonia program held a Religious advocacy Webinar where religious leaders, women of faith and interfaith youth were represented from the different major faith groups to address emerging issues that are affecting the Country: State of the Nation on Emerging and Current Issues Amidst COVID-19, Compliance with guidelines for safe phased re-opening of in-person congregation worship and Religious Leaders Collective Role and Responsibility amid COVID-19.
Shamsa Abubakar, one of the panelist and the organizing secretary of Mombasa Women of Faith Network, spoke passionately about the issues that are affecting the young generation as a result of the early pregnancy. Teenage pregnancies cause a lot of impairments to a girl, issues of depression, suicidal thoughts, trauma, suicides and health issues arise as a result of these pregnancies. This is followed by rejection by the society, friends and family members. Such young girls are stigmatized and tagged with labels that some never outgrow.
She mentioned that some of these pregnancies are due to peer pressure and lack of information when it comes to reproduction health. Some of the pressure comes from the media where ‘happily ever after’ and sexual activities are over glorified and seen as blissful fantasies and pleasures thus the teens want to explore.
What these teenagers fail to understand is the repercussions that come with such actions such as girls dropping out of schools, early marriages, and negative impacts on social economic growth in the country, pre-natal deaths and pre-mature children. A 2017 a Kenyan Study into maternal deaths revealed that nine percent of women who died in the hospital were teenagers.
Kenya has good policies on addressing this issue but lack bold strategies to implement them. There is need to also have boys as advocates’ against teen pregnancies and a need to have repercussions for boys involved in these activities.
“Government, civil society organizations, faith based organizations are all putting effort in to this issue, the question is why are the numbers still increasing? What is wrong? Why aren’t we getting results? Why not engage teenagers as stakeholders during development of these policies, or when advocating for these policies? Why not involve both the girls and boys in the different programs and initiatives that are developed? Why not develop messages by them, to them?” questioned, Shamsa Abubakar, Mombasa Women of Faith Network.
“There is need to have a national center to collect and disseminate information about what works on preventing teenage pregnancies. This information will be accessed by the different counties for implementation. As it is, there is no way for counties to learn and be able to use the information to complement other counties efforts,” added Shamsa
Sexual Gender Based Violence
Men are suffering in silence and women are suffering dis-proportionally. There is need to come up with preventive measures; have safe houses for victims and for male legislators to help in pushing bills on GBV especially Counties that have been affected should push for these bills at the County level.
COVID-19 Stigmatization, Myths and Misconception
IRCK has been involved in sensitization and creating awareness of guidelines as given by the Ministry of Health but still there is need to talk about embracing people who have recovered.
“We are all at risk, anyone can get this disease. No one is immune to it, therefore let us observe the guidelines that have been given and at the same time love and care for one another,” Dr John Okello, Health Ministry Director, SDA and a Standing Commissioner of Health and Social-Well-being Program.
As the faith community we have been called to share love and embrace everyone in the society while giving hope, especially at times like this. Myths and Misconceptions are the biggest causes of stigmatization thus should be addressed.
“We are all at risk, anyone can get this disease. No one is immune to it, therefore let us observe the guidelines that have been given and at the same time love and care for one another.”
There is need to protect jobs and livelihoods and ensure that those who were affected by COVID-19 face no stigma in resuming their jobs or economic activities and Meaningful engagements at community level. Those who have recovered from Covid-19 should help in increasing awareness thus reduce stigma and discrimination.
Dr John Okello, stressed that we shouldn’t be judgmental or stigmatize people that have been affected by this disease.
Education amid COVID-19
Schools and learning institutions have been closed since March 2020 and per the directives given there is a probability they will be closed till 2021. What next after prolonged closure of learning institutions? There is a need for all stakeholders in education from government to learners to use this time to make the necessary preparations for resumption of learning come next year.
Mr. Bakary Chamaswet also noted that the Government should invest in rapid expansion of school infrastructure.
These and other emerging issues affecting the closure of schools were addressed by Mr. Bakary Chamaswet.
Compliance with guidelines for safe phased re-opening of in-person congregation worship
It is the responsibility for the religious leaders to ensure that places of worship do not become sources of infection.”
Dr. Francis Kuria, the Executive Director IRCK addressed the guidelines as developed by the Interfaith Council Committee, which was appointed by the president to develop guidelines on phased safe reopening of in-person congregational worship. The pre-opening phase begun on the 14th of July 2020.
“Sensitization and formation of County Interfaith committees has been done by the Council in all the counties”, added Dr. Francis Kuria, who is also part of the joint secretariat of the Interfaith Council.
He noted that it is the responsibility for the religious leaders to ensure that places of worship do not become sources of infection.
There is a need for Faith organizations, Religious leaders to come out strongly on issues that are affecting the family, society, the nation as a whole. There are gaps that needs to be addressed and there is need to combine efforts by various stakeholders in order to achieve a common goal of tackling these issues.
By Mary N. Ndulili