Eroded culture; evolution of modern technology, poverty and Covid-19 pandemic leading to teenage pregnancy
From inside the room - that doubled up as a kitchen - an anguished baby's cry tore through the mud wall. In the main room of the three-compartment house, mother and daughter sat beside each other. Their faces were pitiful, and looked troubled.
She was encouraged by an elder to respond.
“Please go and bring the baby,” the elder urged in the local dialect and the young mother went inside and reappeared with her bundle of joy.
Naroosura village, a Maasai community settlement, about 130-km north east of the renowned Maasai Mara Game Reserve, is teeming with teenage pregnancies.
Peris's story as a Form One drop-out due to pregnancy then becomes clear. It's not an isolated case. Many girls, her age, were either pregnant or had been swallowed into teen marriages.
“He used to come here as my brother's friend but with time he started making advances on me. This matured last year when we closed school due to Corona, and started seeing each other,” she said. They were not using any form of protection.
After one month she realised there was something wrong. She was pregnant.
“I tried to hide it from my mother, but one day she asked who was responsible for it. At the same time, my boyfriend disappeared when we disagreed that i terminate it," she added.
At this point, her pensive mother's face tightened.
She broke her silence even as she searched for the right words to describe the situation.
"I looked at my daughter and it struck me that there was something wrong. I found out she was pregnant, however, she had to continue with her studies," she said.
It has become difficult for mothers here to have a conversation with their daughters, she noted.
It also emerged that once the girls are circumcised, a rite of passage in the Maa Community, majority of them believe that they are mature women, and certified to engage in sex.
"In our days, a girl could not be pregnant even after circumcision, but nowadays these girls as young as 13, 14 years, feel like they have become women, and can be married and start their own families," she added.
The sixteen-year-old might have got pregnant shortly after Covid-19 erupted in Kenya, she recalls, and now has a two-moñth-old baby. She has not reported back to school. She may not even proceed with education. The parents are poor.
About 20 other girls during a two-day spot-check in Naroosura village had similar tales. A mixture of cultural practices and emerging modern technologies, especially mobile phones and video shops have exposed a Maa community thought widely to be laid back. This has caused havoc. There is modern technology on one hand, and eroding culture on the other.
Across the river, some girls in a rescue shared similar experiences. They are all below 17 years old, and have children. Young boys are responsible.
“My mother sent me to Maasai Mara as a house girl. She could not afford my school education. While I was there, I secured a mobile phone. It linked me to the father of my child. He came to where I was working and started seducing me,” said Mercy, a Form2 drop out.
The boy vanished into thin air when he learnt the girl was pregnant and had disagreed on terminating it.
"Going back to school for a Maasai girl is a miracle. When you become a mother in this community, you are given away for marriage. It was therefore surprising that I found myself back in school. I thought God had given me another chance. I made a decision to abstain," she said.
She said most of the girls in the community are not aware about modern Family Planning methods even though she has decided to abstain.
Antony Mulinge a Public Health Officer at the Naroosura Health Centre in Osupuko area in Narok South Sub County said the number of young pregnant women coming to the health facility since 2018 has been rising.
“But late last year and this year, that number has jumped up to unprecedented levels. This, easily point to Covid-19; culture, FGM and the issue of morans and night crusades.
"You know everybody being at home, even the uncles and the family not even working, and the girls are still at home. The uncles and others relatives take advantage of them,” he said.
Mulinge said, once a girl enters her 10th birthday, they should start to be taught about family planning.
In case of accessibility to some of the reproductive health commodities such as condoms, Mulinge thinks that there should be a policy to distribute condoms widely to even schools so that as many young men as possible can access them. Equally, girls should be sensitised that the condom cannot be harmful to them as they think.
"We have enough stocks of all types of family planning commodities, but culture where you find old men here are not happy about this kind of education. Locally they don't appreciate condom. They say, it will get lost inside and it will harm them," an 18-year old who only identified himself as Peter said.
In a Family Planning (FP) Commodities Quantification and Supply Planning 2020-2022 report 2020, the estimated cost of supply plan - including condoms for FP - for the year 2020/21 is Sh1.8 billion (USD18,595,132) and Sh1.08 billion (USD10,848,288) for year 2021/22.
The Ministry said the commodities that had already been committed against the supply plan were worth Sh938.2 million (USD9, 382, 424) in 2020/21, meaning the funding gap is Sh921.2 million (USD9, 212, 707) and Sh1.08 billion (USD 10, 848, 288) in 2020/21 and 2021/22 respectively.
Mulinge said due to lack of resources, their mobile outreach programmes to hard-to-reach people, are hampered.
It’s the same story in Makueni and Migori counties. In Makueni, Dr. Mbiu Wambua, the Medical Superintendent for Kibwezi Sub County Hospital echoed similar sentiments. “Despite availability of commodity stocks, we have had our outreach programmes come to a halt because we don’t have fuel to drive out to the villages to sensitise people about FP and also distribute,” he added.
In Migori County, the small isolated Aluru Island requires a well planned multi-sectoral approach to deal with rising cases of unplanned pregnancies and other health challenges according to Chief Officer in charge of Public Health, Pauline Amollo.
“Since it’s like a transit island where people come in and go, we need to deal with the issues around it and the mainland from a coordinated approach,” she added.
Migori and Narok, almost give a national picture of teenage pregnancies.
In Narok, it emerged that young men are responsible for the rampant teenage pregnancies, but again the girls also decline sex advances simply because a boy will want to use condom.
“A girl will completely decline that you don’t use it because it will stick inside and harm them,” Samson, 18 years old, said.
In response to the shocking teenage pregnancies, Bishop Simon Simpai of Christian Church International Kenya (CCI) said that despite the fact that the area is productive, poverty is still high.
“This is why many girls were work in the farms to help their parents in tomato harvesting, in the process, they were tempted and easily become pregnant through the lure of money.
“Tomato farming has also seen many outsiders coming in. They have a lot of money that tempts the girls. Mothers have also relinquished their responsibilities,” he said.
The digital revolution, he said had eroded culture and left most of the young people hooked to modernity. This worsened during the long period of Covid-19 pandemic.
His wife, Mary, the chairlady CCI Kenya, a church movement said poverty in the Naroosura village had led to these teenage pregnancies and the rising family disintegrations.
“In the past, children were respectful. It’s not the case now. The emergence of smart phones and video shops has transformed our children completely.
“FP is also a little difficult for the church to promote it, because it looked like we as church leaders, we were promoting prostitution, but now we have no option,” she noted.
She said it had reached a point where a multi-faceted dialogue is a must.
Rahab Kenana, a Member of Narok County assembly said the issue of teenage pregnancy is a major disaster in Narok County. This saw the Maa Community from Kajiado, Laikipia and Samburu converge in Narok when there was a public discussion on the issue because they were are not happy about teenage pregnancy.
“During Covid, alongside prayers against the disease, teenage pregnancy became a key item. When schools were being opened we saw mothers instead of girls going to school,” she said.
However, she feels that the issue will be handled better through an initiative, Narok Technical Teenage Pregnancy Task Force (NTTPTF) which comprises of legislators, Office of First Lady, Women Representative among other stakeholders.
"In the Maasai community, a boy is supposed to be natured by a father, and girls to be taken care of by their mothers. However, in this age and time it should not be that way.
“In tandem with the outdated culture, this has left the girls to their mothers, where fathers need to step in. However, this is difficult for mothers as the daughters feel they are now women and can start their own families. This has seen many of them falling pregnant,” Kenana said.
In January this year, for instance, more than 10,000 pupils in Narok County did not report back to school when the schools were reopened after nine months closure due to Covid-19.
In an interview with the County commissioner, Evans Achoki, said stakeholders should ensure all children are in school as required by the law.
“It is criminal to hold your child who should be in school at home. Parents should take advantage of the free primary education programme offered by the government to take their children to school,” said Achoki.
He said that he has spent a lot of time dealing with teenage related issues since he came to the county last year.
Achoki attributed the increasing cases to the passage of rite, in this case circumcision. He noted that once a girl has undergone the outlawed practice, she feels woman enough to engage in premature sex.
“We have had meetings with the chiefs to see to it that we eradicate FGM that is heavily contributing to the menace. Now we want to go to the next level to know who impregnated the girls,” he said.
Data from Kenya Data and Health Survey (2014) show that 1 in every 5 girls between 15-19 years is either pregnant or already a mother.
As of 2019 latest statistics from the Global Childhood Kenya has the third-highest teen pregnancy rates with 82 births per 1,000 births.
According to the United Nations Population Fund Report, Kenya has recorded 378, 397 adolescent and teenage pregnancies for girls aged 10-19 years between July 2016 and June 2017, specifically, 28, 932 girls aged 10-14 and 349,465 girls aged 15-19 became pregnant.