NAIROBI, Kenya, July 10 2020 – As the world prepared to mark World Population Day on 11th July 2020, the Sauti Sasa Movement led by Y-ACT, an initiative by Amref Health Africa launched the Sauti Sasa Youth voices report on teenage pregnancy to point the country towards the importance of engaging youth voices in developing effective solutions that teenagers can respond to. According to Josephine Achieng, 19 years, a youth advocate in the movement, “for a long time, stakeholders themselves have not paid attention to what teenagers really want and we have been treated as children who cannot think. We want the country to realize that we can propose impactful solutions to problems that we ourselves are facing- such as teenage pregnancies.”
That almost one in five Kenyan teenage girls is a mother represents not only a huge cost to the health sector, but also a betrayal of potential on a shocking scale. According to the Demographic Health Information System, an online data platform launched by the Ministry of Health to map maternal and neonatal information countrywide, 378,687 adolescents between 15-19 years and 20,444 adolescents between 10-14 years presented with pregnancies in health facilities in 2019. This is a drop from the 415,480 adolescents between 15 and 19 years and the 24,665 adolescents between 10-14 years recorded the previous year.
However, the drop in numbers does not negate the fact that an average of 850 girls get pregnant every day in the country, with most of these pregnancies being unwanted. According to the 2019 statistics from the Global Childhood, Kenya has the third-highest teen pregnancy rates with 82 births per 1,000 births globally.
The Sauti Sasa movement collected over 670 youth voices country wide with the objective to document what teenagers and youth really wanted as solutions to the teenage pregnancy menace. These voices were then collated in the Sauti Sasa Voices Report to reinforce and shape the youth self- narrative, and perception on the teenage pregnancies as a key driver to the solutions needed to shift the teenage pregnancy plot while transforming education in Kenya.
‘As young we want to be considered as equal partners and not a last resort in decision-making processes. For far too long, the youth voice has been left out of key decision making processes despite the fact that they make up majority of the Kenyan population. Thus, it is of no surprise that previous interventions have failed,’ said Ms. Mary Wanjiku a current teen mum working to support other teen mums in the slums.
To be successful, efforts to reduce the incidence of teenage pregnancy must include all stakeholders and have youth and adolescents at the core of all decision-making processes
The Sauti Sasa report highlights the youth voices with highlighting four key all to actions on the teenage pregnancies in Kenya.
- Community Infrastructure –with 91% of the youth responses highlighting on the need to have sexuality education owned by a wider realm of community stakeholders (parents, older guardians and religious leaders) beyond the provision of the same in the new education curriculum currently being implemented by the Ministry of Education. In addition, youth called for access to information and contraceptives for sexually active youth.
- Public-Private Partnerships– Greater investment in advocating against harmful cultural practices including Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), child marriage and ‘beading’ that have contributed to high rates of teenage pregnancies in a number of regions and have proven to be detrimental to girl child development.
- Investment in robust protection systems for adolescents facing any form of Sexual Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) by implementing clear structures for reporting, profiling and documenting sexual and gender-based violence at the community level; prioritizing and accelerating court cases on child defilement and waiving all fees related to the same.
- Affordability on essential amenities. Reduction of the high rates of transactional sex, by first making sanitary products available at no cost to young girls in and out of schools.
Recent remarks from the President Uhuru Kenyatta in his speech expressed concern and sounded the alarm on rising cases of teenage pregnancy. His urgent call to action could not be more timely as the current crisis has amplified challenges Kenyan youth are facing, particularly teenage pregnancies where recent reports from a number of counties have indicated a spike country-wide.
Over five years ago, Kenya launched the Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Policy. Unless bold decisions are made to implement that policy, pregnancies among our youth will continue to be a wrecking ball to the national development agenda particularly the Big Four and the SDGs. Approaches deployed for decades seem not to work and the voice of the youth or in this case the subject matter continues to be left unheard in key corridors.