why so many young girls in Kenya get pregnant
The rate of unwanted teenage pregnancies in Kenya is appallingly high. About one in five girls aged 15-19 has begun have children. It is worse in some areas than in others. For example, the rate is as high as two out of five in Narok and Homa Bay counties. Most of these pregnancies are unplanned and unwanted.
Getting pregnant at such a young age can hurt the health and socio-economic well-being of a girl.
When girls get pregnant, they either voluntarily or involuntarily drop out of school. Most of them never return to school, missing the essential investments in education necessary for their empowerment and their ability to earn a living.
They also face stigma and social exclusion, which contribute to their poor mental health. Some ask for the abortion in unsanitary environments resulting in complications, disability and death. Almost half of all unsafe abortion deaths in sub-Saharan Africa occur among adolescent girls.
Those who carry the pregnancy to term are at higher risk of childbirth complications. This includes eclampsia (life-threatening attacks), premature delivery, and the baby’s low birth weight.
Awareness of the dangers of early unintended pregnancy and knowledge of contraceptives increased. But many girls continue to get pregnant so early. My colleagues and I realized a study to understand why.
We analyzed data from two counties from Kenya to Kenya that had the highest rate of teenage motherhood. A total of 1,840 adolescent girls, aged 15 to 19, were included in the study and 60.3% were sexually active. Among sexually active people (1110), 42% got pregnantand eight in ten (77.1%) of pregnancies were unintended.
There were several reasons why these young women became pregnant unintentionally. We interviewed some of them in depth. They said that they sometimes had to have sex, that they were not familiar with contraceptives and their side effects. They also did not have trusted mentors to confide in when it comes to sexuality.
Knowing these factors is a critical step in creating pregnancy prevention programs to move forward.
We drew our study data from the basic data of the “In their hands” program. Operating in 18 counties in Kenya, the program aimed to increase adolescent use of high-quality sexual and reproductive health services.
The African Center for Population and Health – to which we are affiliated – collected quantitative and qualitative data as part of the program evaluation. Our analysis only included adolescent girls who have had sex.
Our statistical analysis showed that only 46.4% of sexually active adolescent girls had ever used contraceptives. We also found that among sexually active girls, two-fifths had an unwanted pregnancy. Girls who had never used contraception were about twice as likely to have an unintended pregnancy as those who had.
Current school attendance has reduced the odds of unwanted pregnancy among teenage girls by 66%. But people living in rural areas were 64% more likely to have an unwanted pregnancy than those living in urban areas.
Why they got pregnant
We interviewed 19 girls who had experienced early unwanted pregnancy to get their perspective on why they were susceptible. They attributed their pregnancy to being cheated into having sex. The boys challenged them to prove their love by having sex with them, and they complied to maintain their relationships and impress their partners. When they got pregnant, the boys gave up or refused them.
Some said they lacked specific information about contraception before starting sex.
Many said they only knew how to avoid pregnancy when they were already pregnant. Neither their parents nor their teachers taught them the methods of preventing an unwanted pregnancy.
Some who knew about contraception were poorly informed about side effects. A 16-year-old interviewee from Homa Bay County who got pregnant and dropped out of school before the age of 15 said:
Yes, we were told, but we were told that if you want to use it you have to have a child first because if you enter freely (using contraceptives) you may not have a child .
The lack of trusted mentors to advise them on sexual matters, including pregnancy prevention, was mentioned as one of the reasons for their unwanted pregnancy. When asked why she did not consult older women, one respondent replied:
I don’t have an older woman that I can trust. If you tell them, they will know you are having sex and everyone will soon find out.
Our findings suggest the need to prioritize two main proven interventions as policymakers deliberate on effective strategies to end teenage pregnancy in Kenya.
First, comprehensive sex education it’s essential. It is sex education that gives students the right knowledge, attitudes and skills. A good program will improve their knowledge of sexually transmitted diseases, reduce unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions, increase contraceptive use, delay sexual debut, reduce pregnancy. number of sexual partners and improve women’s autonomy by deciding when, how and with whom to have sex.
Therefore, it is essential to fully implement sex education before boys and girls have sex. There is currently sex education in Kenya, but it is not comprehensive. For example, he mainly focuses on abstinence and HIV, he tends to neglect contraception and how to access it. And often teachers provide incomplete and sometimes inaccurate information.
It is also important to complement comprehensive sexuality education with increased access to contraceptives to end an early unwanted pregnancy in Kenya. Unlike countries like South Africa, there are no programs intentionally targeting adolescents with the promotion of contraception. In South Africa, condoms are available in schools. Although young people can access contraception in clinics, it is often not easy because providers can make judgments. There could also be privacy or cost issues. And some teens cannot consent to services without their parents.
Even though the Kenyan government is committed to ending adolescent childbearing by 2030, cultural norms and values around gender and religious dogma prevent them from implementing what is known to work.
Overcoming obstacles such as cultural and religious norms will be key to ending early unintended pregnancies in the country.