NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 11 – “Investing in teenage girls,” was the theme of this year’s World Population Day which is commemorated annually to address the urgency and importance of population issues.
The theme sought to address the challenges teenage girls face worldwide especially with early pregnancies.
In Kenya, Devolution Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri presided over the celebrations at Star of Hope Primary located in Viwandani slums where he was accompanied by various dignitaries and stakeholders.
In his speech, The CS said early child bearing is an underlying factor in rapid population growth adding that teenage pregnancy rates have remained unchanged in Kenya since 2008 with many girls experiencing unsafe abortions, forced early marriages and health related complications among other issues.
“A good number of the survey indicators show major improvements in child survival, maternal health, and child nutrition,” said the CS, “while this is good news, the survey also shows disturbing gaps in the health and demographic indicators of young people.”
Teenage girls remain vulnerable in terms of their reproductive health with the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (2014) indicating that one in every five girls between 15-19 years have begun child bearing with about 13,000 teenage girls dropping out of school every year due to pregnancy.
The situation varies by county with some counties being disproportionately affected than others.
The five most affected counties are Narok (40.4pc), Homabay (33.3pc), West Pokot (28.6pc), Tana River (28.2pc) and Nyamira (27.8pc). Nairobi stands at about (17.8pc).
Many girls continue to experience health-related challenges of teenage pregnancies, including mortality and morbidity due to birth related complications; unsafe abortion; forced early marriages; sex work and suicides.
UNAIDS Country Director Jantine Jacobi who was present at the celebrations noted that harmful cultural practices such as child marriages, lack of education on sexual reproductive health, poverty, early sexual initiation are among the harmful contributing factors to teenage pregnancy.
Even though the government has done a commendable job in putting in place policies and laws that address the issues of teenage pregnancy, the challenge of implementation of these policies and the enforcement of the related legislation needs to be met.
Among the recommendations proposed by UNAIDS in addressing teenage pregnancy includes:
– Need to make investments to ensure both boys and girls transition safely from primary to secondary and tertiary levels of education.
– Provide teenagers with age appropriate sexuality education to improve their chances of making informed choices about their sexuality; the school curriculum should be enhanced to incorporate sexuality education.
– Eliminate barriers that prevent young people from accessing reproductive health information and services.
– Initiate campaigns and community dialogues that address harmful practices, such as child marriages, female genital mutilation and substance abuse.
“Investments are needed to protect their health to enable them to receive quality education and to expand economic opportunities, including those of decent work,” said Jacobi.
Kiunjuri stated that the government is ready and willing to address the issues around teenage pregnancy as a developmental issue that is threatening achievement of Vision 2030 goals of improving quality of life.
He also stated that they will work hand in hand with the Education Ministry to see how sexuality education can be implemented in the curriculum which is currently undergoing some reforms.