BY MACHEL WAIKENDA
American actor Steven Seagal once said; “Try to find the path of least resistance and use it without harming others. Live with integrity and morality, not only with people but with all beings.”
The undying and best-selling tragicomedy is one starring Kenyans, and especially legislators, who often lose focus on critical issues and end up discussing trivial matters. We appear to at times throw out all morals without figuring out how this affects those we love and the rest of the society.
Case in point is the controversial Reproductive Health Bill that has proposed to introduce contraceptives to schoolchildren. And, to start with the basics through definition, reproductive health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, in all matter relating to the reproductive system and to its functions and processes.
It is incomprehensible that one can even think of encouraging teenagers to engage in early sex by freely providing them with contraceptives. It is even more shocking that the drawers and the mover of the Bill insist that minors can use contraceptives without the consent of an adult.
Such a law has no place in the Kenyan society even as we seek to buy wholesome the liberal label. It is misplaced and shows we lack focus in what our priorities as a country should be.
Section 33(2) of the Bill says, “In provision of reproductive health services to adolescents, parental consent is not mandatory.
We all know that an adolescent is any person aged between ten and 17 years and presents the most experimental age in human development. So is this Bill not a contradiction in terms?
Reading the proposed Bill, it means that you can provide contraceptives and abortions to 10-years-olds without breaking the law.
Members of both Houses of Parliament should explore better ways of utilising their time instead of with trivializing issues that are of great import such as the overall health of the nation.
Though the Reproductive Health Bill as a whole is important, the drawers and mover should see where debate is likely to lead. In fact, they risk losing a good law on the account of such an unnecessary clause that goes against societal norms.
Already teenagers are grappling with various issues that include, but are not limited to, misinformation on sexual matters.
The Bill is thus untimely and way out of line and will only corrupt children who are already grappling with the confusion brought by teenage hood and the metamorphosis and physiological changes their bodies are undergoing at that age.
It is this time that they also confront peer group pressures, amorous teachers, STIs, HIV/Aids, illegal abortions, a growing culture of consumerism, aggressive marketers and tough economic times for families. Surely, MPs can find better things to occupy their legislative time.
In a society like ours that is heavily faith-based, allowing abortion and access to contraceptives to teenagers would erode culture.
This Bill contravenes the Children Act and may lead to moral decay. The proposed law touches on both faith and cultural values and must, therefore, be handled with a lot of care.
We need to strike a balance between faith and cultural values as well as ensuring we have laws that protect women and girls when it comes to reproductive health. Such a law should aim to provide a framework for the protection and advancement of reproductive and health rights of women, safeguard motherhood and, the while, protecting the innocence and wellbeing of our children.
Parents have to consent to their children under the age 18 years to access contraceptives if this is necessary.
We must also remember that allowing this law will encourage children to experiment and become sexually active since they can access contraceptives, while what we should be aiming at is discouraging early sex which leads to early conception and the string of physical, economic and social problems that result from such indulgence.
Also we must consider the teachers whom we have given the role of guiding our students by becoming beacons of morality and role models and builders of the foundation stone of the individual, this proposed law negates the principle of morality that teachers are supposed to instil in students.
The provisions on providing students with contraceptives will go against the prevailing education policy and that it will encourage sex in learning institutions. Why are we trying to erode the gains we have registered so far? The number of students dropping out school due to early pregnancies has gone down and so we should come up with ways to strengthen existing mechanisms that has kept these numbers down.
Educationists estimate that only 12 to 13 students drops out of school yearly due to early pregnancies out of over 2 million but that the number does not justify the introduction of such drastic policy as the Reproductive Health Bill.
We should not stain the moral fabric of a society by supporting laws that do not conform to our religions and culture. Respect for cultural practices is protected by the Constitution and avoidance of early sex is one thing that our cultures hold dear. Any attempt to erode these must be resisted at all costs.
Indeed, why are our legislators becoming busybodies and going against the counsel Mr Seagal has quoted above? Why are they navigating the path of most resistance by hammering their heads against wall of culture, morality and ethical existence?
(The writer is a political and communications consultant. Twitter @MachelWaikenda)