Soila (not her real name) a Class Seven pupil at Olokuseroi Primary School walks with difficulty, her head bowed in defeat.
She is supposed to be in class, but she is not. At 17 years, she is five months pregnant, with her second child.
“When I first got pregnant I knew it would land me in trouble, especially with my parents who had so much hope in me. But I also knew that I wasn’t the first one to drop out of school because of falling pregnant. I knew I would go back to school after giving birth,” she says.
Less than two years later, she got pregnant again and now has dropped out of school. What hurts her most is that her hope of becoming a teacher is slowly dissipitating into thin air. Soila is now a statistic of teenage pregnancy in Narok county.
Recently, news about Olokuseroi Primary School, in Narok county, hit the headlines after six girls dropped out of school after becoming pregnant. The county holds the inglorious record for having the most cases of teenage pregnancies with more than 46 per cent of girls dropping out of school after becoming teen mums, according to Kenya’s Demographic Health Survey 2014. This means 23 out of 50 girls in the area get children when they are young.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), an adolescent/teenager is any person between the age of 10 and 19 years.
It is a phase that many ought to enjoy; yet teenagers across the country are faced with many challenges, with teenage pregnancies being one of the bottlenecks in their lives. There are a number of ramifications coming from this menace, with the pregnant girls dropping out of school, getting into early marriages, having unsafe abortions and increased risk of maternal deaths.
“These cases have become normal. Each day we get reports on teenagers dropping out of school after falling pregnant. Despite efforts to turn the tide, there seems to be no change,” says Elizabeth Kutara, from the children’s office in Narok county.
She says most of the times many of these cases go unreported with locals preferring to deal with the issue through kangaroo courts.
“We are lucky to have a good working relationship with the police, as we normally hand over our cases to them,” she says.
Olokuseroi Primary School’s case gained prominence after the headteacher, George Ngadi and the area chief wrote a letter to the authorities asking for intervention.
One of the teachers from the school who sought to speak on condition of anonymity reveals that part of the problem is that the school starting age in the region is as late as 10 years old.
“ When you have a Class Six pupil who is 16 years, it is harder to deal with her than a 12-year-old. Again, even if we try to teach them about sex education, the topic is a taboo in the community,” he reveals.
While teenagers are having unprotected sex, the finger of blame is shifting on parents.
One of the pointers of the The National Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health policy (2015) is recognition of the critical role parents, guardians and communities play in protecting adolescents from engaging in sex at an early age.
One parent (whose children attends the same school) says the issue is swept under the carpet in the region, with people preferring to pretend that it is not happening rather than confront the problem head-on.
“This problem has been here for decades and I don’t think we are going to put off the fire any time soon. It is like a web that connects everyone in the community, from the parents, authorities to the children themselves. When we saw what the headmaster did, we knew there was going to be backlash from the community,” he says.
True to his words, Ngandi faced some backlash for his decision to report the matter. The locals ganged up against him, demanding he be transferred to a different school.
“You see down here, people want those cases to be swept under the carpet. A while ago, my brother had the same problem when his daughter who was impregnated by a boda boda guy. He was asked to tone down, but he was reluctant. The girl was in Form Two. Now a few months ago, his son was caught up in the same scandal and now he is not sure what to do,” says the parent who requested anonymity.
When a girl becomes pregnant, she is likely to stop going to school and gets married to an old man.
“ Old men use this as their justification to get a few new blankets, beer and some honey as they married them off. But there is an emerging trend nowadays, as they run away because they do not want to be married off. They settle in towns and do odd jobs, some working in bars and such places. I know a few from this area,” says the parent who requested anonymity.