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The agony of teenage girls and sexual exploitation in Kibra

NAIROBI, Kenya Jul 2 – Covid-19 effects has taken a toll on the lives of teenage girls in Kenya.

Data shows there was a dramatic spike in the number of school girls who became pregnant during the long holidays last year when schools were closed since March when President Uhuru Kenyatta imposed a lockdown in the country.

And when schools reopened in January 2021, pregnancy cases among this vulnerable group were high as well as school dropouts.

The Ministry of Education said more than 12,000 learners who registered for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examinations did not turn up, many of them being girls said to have fallen pregnant. Officials said Gender-based violence is another factor that led to school dropouts.

The number of pregnant girls who sat for last year’s Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examinations was increasingly high, a worrying trend attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic that forced schools to close for a year.

“We have noted the number of candidates sitting the examinations upon delivery went up in 2020,” said Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha when he released the results, “this shows that the long school closure due to COVID-19 may have driven our learners into many temptations at a time most households were facing enormous challenges.”

While at home between March 2020 to January 2021, thousands of school girls were impregnated, with some opting out of school when learners resumed school in January 2021.

Most of the girls affected come from informal settlements, including Kibra in the capital Nairobi.

When they attended school, students and pupils living in poverty received free meals and sanitary towels. However, with closure of schools, they nolonger have access to these resources since they were to remain closed until 2021.

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Tina*, a Form three student is part of these statistics. The 17-year-old is due anytime and the doctors have already told her that she is pregnant with twins.

The Kenya Health Information Management System said there were more than 170,000 teen pregnancies recorded last year alone, when schools were closed. These figures were however, disputed by the government which did not release others to counter them.

And according to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS), the most vulnerable group is aged between 15 and 19.

In an interview with Capital Fm, Tina said that school closure added burden to her jobless parents who already were feeling pinch of taking care of her and other siblings who were stuck at home.

“My mother used to sell omena (small fish) but with covid, no one was purchasing it. So she was rendered homeless like my dad” said Tina.

She says life became tougher as days passed by. There are days the family went for days without food and to her, she had to act as a bridge and help the parents during the pandemic.

“My parents nolonger earned any income, they were struggling to put a mean on the table and this really got me think of stepping out of my comfort zone and help them,” she said.

In effort to assist the family, she told Shahidi News that she turned to men, both old and young for access to food, money and other resources. That is how she fell pregnant.

Tina is among many other girls who fell pregnant in Kenya during the Covid-19 lockdown. Today, she is facing consequences of of this sexual exploitation.

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“You see like now I was forced to stop going to school. I can’t interact with my fellow age mates. They have another mindset of who I am and again if I deliver the baby I don’t know how to raise a baby,” she said.

Statistics released by the Ministry of Education show that girls were worst affected in the pandemic that struck the country in March last year, forcing the closure of schools for a year until January 2021. While some schools embraced digital learning, majority did not in what officials at the Ministry of Education blamed on lack of proper infrastructure to support digital learning.

During this long recess 652 schoolgirls in secondary school who were studying in their final year, Form Four, were impregnated and had to sit for their exams while pregnant or after giving birth, an increase of three times from 2019 when only 282 were affected.

“I am on the issue of driving digital learning to ensure that no child will not be able to access education,” President Kenyatta saiid.

Some Civil Society organizations are now working to reduce the rate of teenage pregnancies in Kenya with the Government promising to work with the Judiciary to take action against perpetrators.

Rukia Hamisi a social worker admits that schools typically provide safe spaces for girls. When they are in school, they are less likely to be forced into engaging in sexual relationships, early marriages among other activities that risk their education and the future.

“Early pregnancies are barriers to girls’ education,” she said.

As much as Hamisi concurs there is increased cases of pregnancies among teens with the covid pandemic, she is asking the Kenyan government to act to endure these statistics are not further worsened by the pandemic.

“The government failed on checking in on their students, particularly girls during the long holidays! The school feeding program stopped and even the sanitary program,” she emphasised.

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Even though the government through the Ministry of Education says with the resumption of learning, it is making sure that girls are returning to school, Hamisi is recommending for it to develop measures to identify and assist those who have returned by providing them the daily necessities.

“The country is yet to recover, families are still feeling the impact of Covid-19, reason you see more girls getting pregnant even with resumption of schools,” she said.

Apart from Tina, Katuu is another young woman from Nyeri and became pregnant by a much older man when she was just 16.

She became pregnant immediately after schools were reopened in 2021.

She says covid has made life worse and her mother who is a single parent couldn’t afford to pay for her fees, buy her books and other necessities since she was struggling to provide for her other siblings.

“He used to give me money and I couldn’t resist knowing the situation in our home,” said Katuu.

Though she says she had already received sex education in school, it didn’t cross her mind that she needed to prevent a pregnancy.

“The money he used to give me was too small. I couldn’t spare some to buy an emergency pill. I could use all to buy books and other things,” she told us.

Covid-19 pandemic has put most of these teen girls at higher risks of sexual violence and exploitation, child marriage, trafficking, forced Labour and social exclusion.

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According to International Rescue Committee (IRC) most of teen girls have been exploited in return for food in poverty stricken areas.

IRC explains that food crisis has led to an increase in pregnancies, forced marriages among other things.

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