Coronavirus puts teenage girls at higher risk of pregnancies
Ann Nyathira @kamaunyathira
Recently, Rift Valley Regional Commissioner George Natembeya issued a satirical order to chiefs under his administration— that they would take responsibility for teenage pregnancies in their areas.
“If a girl in your area conceives, I will perceive it as your pregnancy until that day when she will give birth and a DNA test is conducted,” he said.
You may take this with a sense of humour, but, coronavirus has seen all the learning institutions in the countries closed.
And while most countries appear to put their focus mainly on the health system, the pandemic is already having a devastating impact on teenage girls.
Plan International and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) recently warned of potential increase in school drop out rates in adolescent girls due to closure of schools; leading to an increased risk of sexual exploitation, early pregnancies, and early and forced marriages.
Take for instance, 18-year-old Priscah Kathure who was set to sit for her Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) this year. But she is not sure she will resume school once the learning institutions reopen— she is two months pregnant.
“When the schools were shut due to coronavirus and we were asked to go home, I made a stupid decision that day—Instead of going home, my two other friends and I went to our boyfriends as we had agreed earlier on,” she recalls.
Within few days of staying with him, she had already assumed the role of a wife. She would cook, clean the house and be intimate with him. But, did she ever study?
“I would study once in a while, but you know I had picked up the role of a wife. So it was a bit challenging,” she says.
Her parents had started searching for her, to no avail. They called her school, but the headmistress said all the students were sent home.
They even filed a missing person report with the police. One day, Kathure informed her lover she wanted to go back to her parent’s house who did not know of her whereabouts.
He became agitated and broke up the relationship with her. She went home mid May.
“I did not have my periods that month. I took a pregnancy test and it turned positive.
I was devastated and ashamed, I felt like my life was completely ruined only because I had given in to peer pressure. Remember the three of us went to our respective boyfriends and two of us returned home pregnant,” she confides.
“I look around my neighbourhood and I see several pregnant girls. Luckily for me, I have supportive parents.
My father asked me to keep the baby and promised to take me back to school once I have the child,” she adds.
The sexual debut in the country stands at about 15 years according to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) 2014.
For girls living in informal settlements, school closure is most devastating as they are already disadvantaged.
These are the sentiments of Veronica Kifanya who lives in Mukuru Kaiyaba slums, Nairobi, with her 17-year- old daughter and her sister’s daughters aged 16 and 18 years.
“Having the girls at home is challenging, but I talk to them about the risk involved and the consequences of having sex. Sometimes I just feel like it is not enough.
The temptations are high here, if it is not drugs, then it is crime and gangs or sex,” she says.
She believes the girls were much better of in school and wish for school to reopen soon so that they can have something to keep them busy.
Chris Columbus of Toto Care Box Africa says the closure of schools increased girls vulnerability, especially those in slums to sexual abuse both by their peers and older men.
He deals with pregnant mothers at Lengo Hospital, Mukuru. It is at this place where he has witnessed the cases of teen pregnancies rise significantly since schools closed.
“Many of these girls are usually left at home alone and unsupervised. Here at Mukuru, we have school-going girls who have sex for money sometimes with the consent of their parents.
Since the school closed, we have had over 25 new cases of teen pregnancies in this area and this is just a fraction since abortion rates are also high here,” he says.
He notes as family breadwinners lose their job and livelihood to the economic impact of Covid-19, some girls are forced to have sex for money with older men to provide for their families.
“Education is a lifeline for the girls living here. It offers hope for a brighter future,” he says.