As schools remain closed, teen pregnancies rise

Monday, September 7th, 2020 00:00 |
As schools remain closed, teen pregnancies rise.

 As Kenya struggles to flatten the coronavirus curve, the country is facing another outbreak; teenage pregnancies. Education stakeholders fear children’s prolonged stay at home during the pandemic is worsening the problem.

Education is among the sectors that has been hit hard by the continued spread of coronavirus, following sudden closure of schools in mid-March, hardly three months after the school calendar begun. 

The government emphasised that staying at home would be safer for students and their families, but prolonged stay away from school is gradually becoming a factor in increased vulnerability of girls due to the rising cases of teenage pregnancies.

The unexpected closure of schools was a double tragedy for 15-year-old Jane Njeri* a Class Eight pupil in rural Murang’a county.

Her education is hanging in the balance after a friendly liason with her 18-year-old Form Three  boyfriend left her pregnant.

“I have lost hope of ever going back to school. My parents have already dismissed me as a disgrace to the family,” says Jane as she ponders over her diminishing future prospects of becoming a nurse.

She says her parents, who work as casual labourers lost their jobs making life for their family unbearable.

“My boyfriend offered to help me with some money once in a while, so I gave into his demands for sex,” she says. 

School closures not only resulted in losing her possibility to learn, but also free access to sanitary towels and provision of school meals, which she used rely on significantly.

Inequality gap

Although the Ministry of Education has put in place strategies to ensure continuity of education through distance online learning delivered through radio, television and the Internet, Jane’s parents say they are not able to afford it.

“The plan was not favourable for children who do not have access to the Internet or electricity.

We have no access to power, laptops or the Internet. How are our children supposed to access online classes?” Asks Mary Wangui*, Jane’s mother. 

Mary blames closure of schools to her daughter’s predicaments. She says  there is only so much she can do to protect her daughter.

To which Gladys Wairimu, a teacher in a remote primary school in the outskirts of Murang’a town concurs.

She says staying away from school has raised the risks of young girls engaging in transactional sex in order to gain not only access to these essential needs, but also support their families. 

She says the government’s distance online learning strategies has only further widened the inequality gap, as learners from poor, vulnerable and marginalised households, such as Jane’s family are unable to benefit from continued learning  through these platforms due to lack of access. 

In a shocking revelation last month, Machakos county recorded over 4,000 school girl pregnancies in five months since Covid-19 struck.

Machakos county Children’s Officer Salome Muthama was quoted saying that the figure could be higher. About 200 of these girls were aged below 12 years.

A recent report by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) shows 378,397 teenage pregnancies were recorded in Kenya between July 2016 and June 2017. Of these, 28,932 occurred among girls aged between 10-14 years.

What’s damning about these statistics is that only two per cent of the teenage mothers return to school.

Too much idle time

Francis Maina, a parent, who also doubles up as parents representative in a school in the county says too much time in their hands, lack of sex education, negligent parents and peer pressure are to blame for pushing young girls into this pit.

Similarly, he points to unsupervised online learning, free access to the Internet with increased availability of smartphones and cheap data bundles by the service providers, which has allowed teenagers to browse sites that expose them to adult content.

The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) reveals that Covid-19 has affected over 1.5 billion learners globally with the largest school closures and education disruption in history.

Now, another major challenge is looming. Over 11 million girls from pre-primary to tertiary education may not return to school in 2020.

According to Unesco, these alarming numbers not only threaten decades of progress made towards gender equality, but also puts girls around the world at risk of adolescent pregnancy, early and forced marriage, and violence.

Kate Maina-Vorley, Plan International Kenya’s Country Director, it is alarming that so many teenage girls have fallen pregnant during the pandemic.

“This will have lifelong consequences for them, their wellbeing and their access to health care and other support services”, observed Kate.

To mitigate on this situation, Unesco two weeks ago launched a new campaign focusing on ‘keeping girls in the picture’.

The campaign calls for efforts to safeguard progress made on girls’ education, ensure girls’ learning continuity during school closures, and promote  girls’ safe return to school once these reopen.

It also sheds light on the 130 million girls who were already out of school before the pandemic, and calls on the international community to urgently work together to guarantee their right to education.

The campaign dubbed #LearningNeverStops will feature multilingual video, engaging social media assets, practical toolkits for radio and youth-led organisations.

Various local and regional influencers, education professionals and champions for girls’ rights have also committed to amplifying campaign messages and spread knowledge through their respective networks.

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