Kitui County has recorded an alarming 3, 207 teen pregnancies of ages 10-19 years since the Covid-19 pandemic hit the country in March.
Speaking at Kwa Vonza during a community awareness campaign to stem the spiraling tide of teen pregnancies in the County on Monday, the Kitui Children Officer, Augustine Nyamai said that parental laxity, lengthy closure of schools and poverty has exposed the girl-child to pedophiles.
“We suspect that there could be more unreported cases within the community that have not been documented. We have joined hand with security agencies, ministry of health and NGOs such as World Vision to mitigate this vice,” said Nyamai.
Further, the Children Officer said that with the loss of livelihoods particularly in low-income households, some children may be forced into income-generating activities to support their families’ survival.
“Lengthy school closure has stopped the provision of school meals and sanitary towels, which children from disadvantaged families rely on significantly,” noted Nyamai.
The Lower Yatta Deputy County Commissioner (DCC), Gerald Mutuku said that the security apparatus are tracking down the culprits with the help of chiefs, their assistants and village elders.
“Let those responsible for teenage pregnancies rest assured that we shall apprehend and prosecute them. The government is committed to protect the rights and welfare of minors in this country,” said Mutuku
The administrator also warned parents against concealing the pregnancy of their under-age daughters and advised them to report to the authorities for appropriate action.
“We are also aware parents and village elders have been holding kangaroo courts to mediate between the culprits and the aggrieved families. We shall not allow the rights of the children to trampled upon, those found in contravention of the law will be arrested and taken to court,” said Mutuku.
The DCC disclosed that some of these pregnancies could be as a result of sexual violence, which has been projected to rise during Covid-19 lockdowns.
“At least, this is true judging from lessons learned during the pandemic lockdowns, where the closure of schools resulted in an increase in physical and sexual violence, teenage pregnancies, and unsafe abortions,” noted Mutuku.
The Kitui and Machakos Counties World Vision Manager, Winfred Mukonza said that with the support of government agencies there is need to strengthen children welfare and protection amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Our hope is in children. The lengthy closure of schools has affected the girl child due to exposure to pedophiles when they go out in search for water or fetch firewood. This campaign is meant to create awareness and mitigate the abuse,” said Mukonza.
She said that it is alarming that so many teenage girls have fallen pregnant during lockdown, which can have lifelong consequences for them.
“We are extremely concerned about their wellbeing and their access to health care and other support services,” added Mukonza.
She called on leaders to institute policy measures that ensure sexual and reproductive health services are accessible and affordable for all at this critical time.
With committed leadership, Mukonza noted that the effects of the pandemic can be minimized, ensuring that the gains made in improving adolescent sexual and reproductive health before Covid-19 are not completely lost.
The Yatta Hospital Medical Officer, Dr. Martin ole Nkulet said that teenage mothers are at a high risk of developing complications and dying during childbirth.
Dr. Nkulet said that teenage pregnancy is also a health issue given that the risks of premature birth, low birth weight, and perinatal death are higher among teenage mothers.
“We counsel pregnant teens who come to the clinic on the body changes they will experience because of carrying a baby. We know they are traumatized and empathy is important at this stage as they come to terms with their actions,” said Dr. Nkulet.
Elizabeth Mwoka, a community member, blamed parents who gave their children unlimited freedom to do whatever they liked without proper monitoring.
“Mothers should be on the lookout for their under-age daughters while at home or attending to household chores and ensure they counsel them properly to curb teen pregnancies,” she said.
By Yobesh Onwong’a