NAIROBI, Kenya Jul 7 – Education stakeholders in the country say the rising number of teen pregnancies recorded during the COVID-19 period will put to test the government policy to allow expectant students to continue with their studies as it strives to achieve the 100 percent transition rate.
Janet Ouko, who has served as Elimu Yetu Coalition National Coordinator and former Nairobi County Executive Committee Member for Education and educationist Edward Kaburu, agree that the first litmus test is likely to stem from stigmatization the students are likely to face during the nine months before delivery and the postnatal period.
“The numbers we have seen coming out are very worrying, because despite a policy in place providing that you can be pregnant and still be in class to continue with your learning we know that requires a lot of support from the community and parents because of the stigmatization that is attached to it, then it would mitigate to see to it that every girl whether pregnant or one with a young baby is given the opportunity to go on and clear her basic education studies,” Ouko said, and warned that the absence of this might see the girls not turn up when schools reopen.
On his part, Kaburu noted that despite the policy being in place and the advances the Ministry of Education has made over the last 13 years to facilitate a re-entry point for the teen mothers to complete their basic education, most schools are still not properly equipped to cater for the needs of an expectant teenager or teen mother.
“We do not have a society that is readily accepting teenagers to be parents because few parents would like to see their daughters moving with girls who are expectant,” he said.
Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha has declared that schools will remain closed until 2021, due to the climbing number of COVID-19 cases which had surpassed 8,000 by Tuesday.
A new report released recently revealed that there at least 3,000 girls on average who had been impregnated while at home since March when schools were closed.
“This means these girls end up being banished by society because they have fewer friends to sit with. What happens when they have pregnancy complications, the schools set-up are not appropriate for expectant mothers because they have lessons that don’t respect the moods and the hormonal imbalances that come with it, you have issues to do with the diet which some of the schools are battling with resources so how do you begin to provide meals that have nutritional values for young mothers,” Kaburu wonders.
What are the solutions?
As a means to smoothen the re-entry path of the teen mothers into the schooling cycle, Ouko recommends the government to carry out intensive capacity building at the community level.
Kaburu agrees that there is a need for behaviour change mechanisms, and proposes a reworking of the Curriculum to focus on empowering the learners to make responsible decisions.
“Let them make decisions, but not because we did not tell them, because it is different when they are making decisions and they were never told. Most of these children are hardly given solid information, it is either you do or you don’t,” he explained
To him this is a societal problem rather than an educational one which has been exacerbated by the ease in access to explicit video content from online sites.
“These are young children who are in their teenage years and there is a lot of curiosity and of course with the proliferation of information, the chances of them getting more susceptible to the narrative in that there is a way sex is over-glorified. It has been made to look like sex can open many doors for you rather than even your brains,” he said.
Since March, dozens of young boys and girls who are barely 20 years old have been arrested in various parts of the country while engaging in group sex during house parties.
So how did we get here?
Experts agree that the over glorification of sex, curiosity, idleness and lack of parental/adult supervision are among the reasons the country is experiencing unprecedented cases of the teen pregnancies reported over the last four months.
Former Nairobi CEC for Education Janet Ouko says the pandemic has revealed the role schools play as safe spaces in safeguarding children.
Ouko notes that the cases of teen pregnancies are usually cut by half or by 60 per cent when the students are in school, where they are pre-occupied with learning, and other activities including playing and interacting so that the discussion on sex is postponed to a later date when the child is older.
She is now calling on the Ministry of Education to thoroughly investigate the cases observing that there is a risk of young girls engaging in transactional sex in order to gain not only access to these essential needs but also to support their families.
“COVID-19 period has given as a brand new dynamic, I wish this cases can be disaggregated so that we are able to see whether all these cases, we are talking about, we can say the 20 per cent is due to defilement, 10 per cent is due to an older man preying on a minor girl, because through that we have recourse in law.” she said.
Kaburu reckons parents also need to be equipped to have these conversations with a generation of adolescents and teenagers who are bombarded with all manner of information leading them to explore and experiment often ending in costly results.