People Daily

Teen pregnancy crisis requires new approach

The country is witnessing what is turning out to be a successful national examination season after months of worry and speculations about the credibility of the exercise.

It is, perhaps, the first exams that have witnessed immense support from actors in both the public and private sectors. The candidates, on the other hand, are taking everything by their stride even as they chart their future.

Underneath this positive picture, however, is the silent problem of teenage pregnancies that is turning into an epidemic. It is a phenomenon that is likely to change how we engage the youth on matters of sex and sexuality.

The two days succeeding the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education brought out the chilling facts of tens of girls who had to sit their exams just hours after giving birth. Others had to be rushed to the hospital even before they could finish writing their papers to deliver, while others had to bring their weeks-old babies with them to exam centres for breastfeeding.

To a large extent, the rising number of teenage pregnancies could be nothing more than teenagers experimenting with their bodies. The problem with this is that at the end of the day, we have young girls who are likely to miss out of their childhood and youth as they take care of the consequences of such experiments.

It is also worrying that our young ones are still engaging in unprotected sex despite the years of education on the perils of Sexually Transmitted Infections and HIV/Aids.

Where do we go from here? Experience shows that heart-to-heart talk on its own is not very effective with the young. In fact, in their willful and rebellious nature, they tend to do exactly what they are told not to do.

Do we jail their parents for poor parenting or subject both parent and child to further public ridicule? Sadly, our laws do not provide for this and we often meet parents from all walks of life who have done their best to place their children on the straight and narrow.

Their prayers and punishment have not helped. Their smartphones provide access to pornography and their children have consciously shut them out from their lives. There are many desperate parents in our midst wondering where they went wrong with their children.

If we are to speak about the law, it is quite possible that half the cases we are hearing of are about children defiling each other in the name of young love. A pregnant 16-year-old girl is just as guilty of defilement as the 17-year-old boy who got her pregnant.

Do we then condemn the boy to the legal system and deny him the chance for a productive life and even a future love and children?

Representatives from the ministry of education have indicated that they will soon develop a policy to address the issues of teen pregnancies. Our situation, however, has very little to do with legal and institutional frameworks because we have enough of those. 

The Children’s Act, the Penal Code, the Sexual Offences Act and other existing policies have all done little to prevent teen pregnancies.

It is imperative, therefore, that this envisaged policy takes into account the myriad of issues affecting teenagers today, limited physical activities outside their homes being one of them.  —The writer comments on development issues

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