The untold story of teen dads

Wednesday, November 4th, 2020 00:00 |
Gerald Liboi became a dad at 17 years. Photo/PD/THOMAS BWIRE

Over the years, reprodactive health talk has been centred on girls, since teenage pregnancy and childbearing has traditionally been viewed as a female issue. But where does this leave the boys? Two young men from informal settlement share their journey to unplanned fatherhood. 

Thomas Bwire @thomasbwire

Kelvin Ndarwa, 20, sells clothes to earn his daily bread. At his Nairobi’s Mukuru Kwa Reuben’s base, the clothes are neatly hang on an orange-painted stone wall.

He occasionally smiles, as we interview him about his journey into an apparently unplanned fatherhood. 

“I started engaging in sex at 13 years while still in primary school and living with my grandmother in Nakuru county,” Kelvin explains as we start our conversation.

At a tender age, life challenges pushed him to started living on his own in a separate rented house away from his grandmothers house. He was just 13 and was attending a local primary school. 

“I was sleeping on my own and even started to fend for myself over the weekends,” narrates Kelvin.

 He would engage in manual jobs in the evenings after school and on the weekends. This became his routine.

He had to also find a way of paying his bills. His parents lived away in Nairobi at the Mukuru Kwa Rueben slums.

Struggling hard to make ends meet, they could hardly support him. “My parents used to quarrel constantly and did not have much connection with me,” says Kelvin.

With time he started to purchase his own household items such as big radio and a 32 flat television screen for his house. Consequently, girls would visit him in the guise of revising for exams. In the process, they would engage in sex.

 “Girls used to see me as someone who had made it in life. Imagine, living alone and paying your own bills. I was being seen and admired as Mr Independent,” Kelvin recalls.

Given the biting poverty in the area, he stood out and he so impressed the girls who saw him as a potential partner who would offer them a better life.

He moved to Nairobi in 2017 to join his parents who by then were doing much better, and gave him a room on his own

Life in Nairobi city became too tempting. And in November last year, he found himself right in the mess.

“I impregnated a friend of my girlfriend. Things happened so fast.  It was one of those moments. I hosted her at my place just for a night, November 16, 2019… It wasn’t even planned,” says Kelvin.

A month later, on December 26,  Kelvin’s holiday was interrupted by a call she received from the girl.

She wasn’t feeling well. The following day he accompanied her to hospital for medical check-up. That’s even how he got to know that she was only 17.

The dreaded news came. She was pregnant and unplanned fatherhood had finally nailed his ambitions.

Rashid Mutaha, an innovation strategist at Maisha Youth.

“That was the longest day ever.  I wanted to deny responsibility, but on second thought, I had to be a man and live up to my identity as Mr Independent.

I accepted and decided to work even harder to provide for the new mouths,” adds Kelvin. His daughter now one-and-a half months old.

Lacking mentors

A July 2020 report by the National Council on Population and Development (NCPD) indicates that two out of five teenagers in the country are either young mothers or are pregnant.

Since Covid-19 pandemic hit, 20,828 girls aged between 10 and 14 years have become mothers while older girls aged between 15-19 years, 24,106 are either pregnant or mothers already.

This means the same number of men are fathers, and unfortunately, some of them are teens.   

Over the years, Mukuru Kwa Rueben used to have Young Men Resilience (YMR), youth programmes, that taught young adolescent’s boys about sexual reproductive health.

Kelvin narrates he had a chance to attend around two sessions before the initiative died a natural death.  

“That would have saved me this trouble now. I lacked a father figure— never at one point did I sit with any man to discuss men topics.

I came to the city, one of my major influencers were my male peers, we used to go clubbing and met different teen girls,” narrates Kelvin.

These are lessons for parents, that they should discuss sex and reproductive health topics with their children without fear.

“Boys are in need of mentors to hold their hands. That way, we shall see responsible men in Kenya,” adds Kelvin.

Gerald Liboi is also another young father aged 20 years from Kibera slums. “I used to live with my single mum.

She didn’t know I was dating and she was never there  to see me sneaking out at night, especially when going for clubbing escapades with male peers as early as when I was in Class Seven. This is the family that taught me about sex,” Gerald explains.

Half-baked  lessons

On such escapades, his older friends would also give him their house keys and ask him to have fun with the girls they had met in the dance clubs.

Initially, he would turn down offers to sleep with girls he had only met once in a dance club. With time, peer pressure caved in and he finally gave in to the new lifestyle. 

Life changed when he joined secondary school. He moved out of his mother’s house and started to live on his own.

Now with much freedom at his disposal, life became a defining moment. “I had so much freedom to do what I wanted, now that I was my own boss,” says Gerald.

Life was sweet and occasionally over the weekends, he could get courtesy visits from girls his peers, who came to cook for him, wash his clothes and even clean his one roomed semi-permanent house in Kibera slums.

With no one to supervise him about life, Gerald got deeper entangled into the influence of his ‘Boys Club’ that within not time they  were engaging in sex orgies.

“I remember while I was in primary school, mum in her usual talks would say girls are bad.

But I wondered how bad, yet I experienced blood rush whenever I met them. The ‘girls are bad’ tag only ended at that,” Gerald says with a shrug. 

In 2017 while he was in Form Two and aged 17, he finally settled on one girlfriend whom they dated for around five months.

Over the mid-term break and April holidays, they engaged in sex since the girl was in a boarding school.

However, during second-term midbreak, the girl came back home and informed him she was pregnant with their baby.

“My first instinct was to deny. How could she allow herself to become pregnant, while we were both still in school?” poses Gerald.

His mind flashed back to the youth jam sessions they had attended together and the countless sleepovers that took place at his place during the April holidays.

“When I looked at her and saw the protruding stomach, I knew things were thick.

That week after my midterm break, going to school was like torture. I could not concentrate in class,” he recalls 

Taking charge

Gerald remembered how in primary school a teacher briefly taught them a  topic o sex. He had thought this talk was a waste of time and that the teacher didn’t want them to have fun.

Instead, it pushed him to want to explore more about sex. While at home with his mother, Gerald says, they never had at any time discussed or even shared about sex education.

Gerald says his mother was too busy fending for the family. According to Gerald, parents teaching their children about sex would help teen boys and girls to make informed decisions.

This, he says, would be more effective than school sex education because teens attach more value to their parents.

Now with the baby, life had to go on. “Being a dad at 17 years was never a thing in my mind. The first two to three months were challenging having to balance between school and parenting.

My brothers promised to help me financially—help that only lasted three months. They thereafter asked him to take charge of his young family.

Luckily, both parents came to a consensus and the girl stayed at her parent’s home on condition that he should support her financially. 

Gerald completed his secondary education and is currently working in the hotel industry to support his young family. His girlfriend also completed her secondary education and engages in small scale businesses.

“If you are in school, take your education seriously. Girls will still be there and you won’t have to start running up and down like me when the unexpected happens.

You will be more mature at a later stage and more independent. Let school be your first girlfriend,” emphasises Gerald.

Rashid Mutaha, is an Innovation Strategist at Maisha Youth, an initiative working and engaging with the youths in Kenya on sexual reproductive health and rights on HIV and Gender Based Biolence (GBV).

“We target adolescents between ages of 15 and  24 years and use the ABC strategyn of Abstinence, Be Faithful and use of Condoms.

In most cases, we encourage the teens to abstain as a sure way of keeping safe from any dangers of unplanned parenthood,” says Rashid.

Maisha Youth is centred more on giving youth and young men with vital information to have candid discussions.

“Many men are told not to cry and be a man. That’s why we give young people a platform to talk about life and the challenges they are facing,” adds Rashid.

Another approach the organisation uses is asking young men to be in charge of their lives and those of their partners. Mostly it targets men in programme called Man’s under a hashtag ‘He Stands Firm.’

“Over the years we have made sex talk centred on girls— ‘you need to protect’, ‘you will get pregnant’.

We have made this a girls’ responsibility, but we rarely ask ourselves what role do the young men who impregnant these girls play in this whole debate?” asks Rashid.

Every year, during the national exams period, we report increased number of girls sitting for the exams while pregnant.

“This means we are only plucking the leaves. We make noise why school girls are getting pregnant. We don’t go to the root cause to find out what’s happening,” he adds.

He emphasises on the need to create a space for men where they can have a candid talk and listen to each other.

There is also need to recognise that young people cannot live alone unsupervised.

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