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Educationists censure kangaroo courts over teen pregnancies

Kangaroo courts, poverty and lack of parental supervision are to blame for the soaring number of teenage pregnancies in the country.

The Forum for African Women Educationists (FAWE) has further chastised the informal village courts for denying justice to sexually abused girls.

FAWE Programmes officer Ms. Naomi Kamitha indicated that most parents of girls who are molested settle the matter outside the formal justice system by getting village elders to intervene. This has turned what should end up with punishment for culprits and justice for the girls into a gravy train for the elders and parents.

Ms. Kamitha explained that in a typical case mostly in rural settings, four elders convene a baraza under a tree in the village to discuss the matter. At the end of it, the parent of the girl is “compensated” with as little as Sh10,000, or chicken, cows, or goats.

Speaking in Nakuru during a Technical Working Group meeting organized by the State Department for Gender and Affirmative Action in collaboration with FAWE, the official noted that Kangaroo courts were playing a big role in protecting sex pests.

Ms. Kamitha stated FAWE, through the Imarisha Msichana Program was sensitizing communities on ways to report such cases and how the law is enforced against sex pests.

The program she added had prioritized sensitization for the youth, parents and community leaders on reproductive health and the prevention of teenage pregnancies and early marriages.

“We are reaching out to teenage girls and enlightening them that defilement is listed under the Sexual Offences Act and it is a crime for a man to have sex with a girl under the age of 18,” she explained.

She added, “We are telling the girls that there is only one court and that is the Judiciary. If there are any other courts, either by elder relatives, or village elders and parents, they are not allowed. All these cases of rape, bestiality and incest cannot be solved under a mango tree,”

The Imarisha Msichana programme was launched by FAWE in partnership with the MasterCard Foundation, Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (Creaw) and Kenya Red Cross Society.

It is working with the Ministry of Education and other stakeholders to implement the programme for three years in selected counties, including Nakuru, Nairobi, Machakos, Elgeyo Marakwet, Kiambu, Garissa, Bungoma, Kakamega, Nyeri, Migori, Murang’a, Kajiado, Narok, Homa Bay, Trans Nzoia, Nyandarua, Busia, Meru, Siaya, and Turkana.

Imarisha Msichana programme activities also include collaboration with key stakeholders in generation of credible and acceptable data on teenage pregnancies for use in informing solutions and championing re-entry of such girls to schools.

They are also centered on sensitization of girls, young women, boys, young men, parents, and community leaders to human sexuality and prevention of pregnancy and media advocacy programmes.

While terming teenage pregnancies a national crisis that needs urgent intervention the programme Officer indicated that Imarisha Msichana, targets teen mothers and adolescents aged nine to 18 and young women aged 19 to 25.

“We are imparting to them useful knowledge and necessary skills to be able to fully transition to adulthood and help them become productive members of their communities,”.

She expressed regret that teenage pregnancies hinder girl child education in Kenya and on the continent and noted that when girls fall pregnant and fail to resume their education, it perpetuates a vicious cycle of poverty.

Ms. Kamitha added that through the programme, FAWE hopes to achieve improved learning outcomes for girls and reduced teenage pregnancies in Kenya. She said their focus is teenage mothers as they have proved capable of resuming and excelling in their academic work.

She stated that the risk of HIV infection, adolescent pregnancies and sexual and gender-based violence have persistently undermined the health, education and economic empowerment of young girls

According to Ms. Kamitha, the programme comes at a time when the country is still tackling the adverse impact of Covid-19 on girls’ education.

A survey by the National Council on Population and Development in 2020 indicated that one in every five teenage girls aged 15-19 has either had a live birth or is pregnant with their first child, with some counties reporting two out of every five girls.

The Ministry of Health revealed that there were 317,644 teen pregnancies in 2021. Between January and February last year, 45,724 cases of teenage pregnancies were recorded.

County Director in Charge of Quality Assurance Mr George Ontiri said the National government was fully supporting re-entry to school of teenage mother policies such as the ones advocated by FAWE as they were key to achieving education for all.

“We still need to work harder to empower the girl child. Let us remember Sustainable Development Goal 4, which talks about lifelong learning and leaving no one behind. As a ministry, we support organizations in their endeavour to support education,” said Mr Ontiri.

Increased access to adult content on TV and online, absent parents, poverty and peer pressure are among the contributing factors to the teen pregnancy crisis, he stated

The Director indicated that churches and other institutions dealing with teenagers need to keep reminding them of abstaining from sex and other vices.

“Teenagers need to be kept busy in constructive activities. They need to be listened to by their parents. They need constant instruction and vital information on reproductive health to keep them safe. If parents and guardians do not play this role, they end up getting the information from wrong sources,” he observed.

Mr. Ontiri called upon parents to shed off the fear of talking to their children about reproductive health and hygiene.

“We are these days having parents who are not available for their children as they are too busy. They are not there to teach, guide and mentor their children who are now left to experiment things with their bodies,”

Nakuru West Deputy County Commissioner Mr Khalif Abdullahi challenged parents and grandparents to rise up to the occasion and talk to their children and grandchildren on the importance of moral value

He observed that sexual abuse, female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriages were primary drivers of the high prevalence of unplanned pregnancies among the adolescents in Kenya.

Uncles, aunties and the religious institutions, he said, also need to talk to young girls and mentor them. Religious institutions he added should also guide the young parents to inculcate in them proper parenting values, which is lacking in some.

“The consequences of teenage pregnancy can be fatal in regard to growth and association with other people. Adolescents drop out of school, leading to a heavier dependency burden, high maternal deaths due to stress and depression, the spread of diseases such as HIV, STD, and STI and increased economic hardships as parents cater for their grandchildren,” noted the administrator

Teenage pregnancy and motherhood rate in Kenya stands at 18.1 per cent, according to the 2014 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey, the most recent government data.

Further, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) data show that 26 per cent of Kenya’s women aged 20-24 years gave birth before age 18, thus putting it among 40 countries with the heaviest burden of teenage pregnancy.

The World Bank provides latest data on the adolescent fertility rate (births per 1,000 women aged 15-19). As of 2020, Kenya had 72 births per 1,000 women aged 15-19.

Experts say inadequacy of youth-friendly services such as counseling on sexuality and rape prevention, and lack of adequate access to sexual and reproductive health information, have also huge impact on teenage pregnancy numbers.

By Anne Mwale 


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