How teenagers bore the brunt of coronavirus pandemic

Tuesday, July 13th, 2021 00:00 | By
More than 328,000 girls got were impregnated in the first year of Covid-19 pandemic, according to statistics released by the Ministry of Health.

More than 328,000 girls got were impregnated  in the first year of Covid-19 pandemic, according to statistics released by the Ministry of Health.

The statistics are contained in a study commissioned by the Presidential Policy and Strategy Unit (PASU and the Population Council.

The survey also established that a significant proportion of girls did not re-enrol and sit national examinations when schools reopened due to lack of school fees and pregnancies.

The study, Promises to Keep: Impact of Covid-19 on Adolescents in Kenya, further shows that approximately 250,000 girls and 125,000 boys who were in school at the onset of the pandemic in March last year had not reported back by February 2021, primarily due to lack of fees, highlighting the impact of the economic downturn on education.

Job opportunities

The report states that the second leading causes of learners’ failure to return to school were pregnancies and opting for job opportunities for boys.

It also cited the prolonged school closure, economic challenges occasioned by the pandemic and idleness for early pregnancies and marriages.

“At least 1 per cent of 15–19-year-old girls in Kenya are currently pregnant and 3 per cent recently had a baby.

Further, 2 per cent – 4 per cent of 15–19-year-olds were married, translating to over 100,000 early marriages,” says the report.

Of these girls, 32 per cent got married because of the pandemic, 44 per cent said they got married because of pregnancy, 16 per cent claimed they would not be married if there was no pandemic while 24 per cent stated that it was not their choice to get married.

“Teenage pregnancy and early marriage have been, and continue to be, significant problems for Kenya’s adolescent girls, which limit their ability to complete school, maximise their full potential and ensure the health of future generations.

Covid-19 has shone a spotlight on these issues and increased political will to tackle these concerns across a diverse set of stakeholders,” the report states.

The data is contained in a 93-page report of the survey spearheaded by PASU, Population Council and independent consultants.

A 17-year-old adolescent girl in Makueni County said she first lied to her mother when she asked her whether she was pregnant. 

‘‘When I told her the truth, she beat me up. She asked me why I lied to her yet she would have found a way to help me abort. I would never think of aborting,’’ she said.

A teenager in Kajiado County said: ‘‘A pregnant girl feels uncomfortable... she will not concentrate in school, so she performs poorly.’’

A 17-year-old boy in Kilifi County shared with interviewers the plight of pregnant girls in the area.

“When the girl has been impregnated, she gets married. The girls’ parents take her to the boy’s home for marriage whether the boy likes it or not,” he said.

According to the report, lack of money to procure sanitary pads, food, clothes, and other personal needs was cited by most respondents in urban and rural areas as contributing factors to teenage pregnancies.

These needs were unmet due to the loss of income by parents or guardians, who could not maintain the lifestyles that the adolescents were used to.

“In the Maasai community when a girl gets married, cows will be brought to the homestead and the family will no longer be poor,” a 14-year-old girl in Kajiado County said during the survey.

An 18-year-old girl said: ‘‘When mum does not get the cash to cater for our needs, I become very emotional.

I may be tempted to go out there with men to look for money. That going out with men can lead to me getting pregnant again, that is what worries me.”

The report states that many adolescents engage in transactional sex or paid work to meet their needs.

“When the parent does not have money to buy you clothes or food, you are forced to go and look for yours.

And the person you get, deceives, and impregnates you, so you have to live with him,” a 19-year-old girl in Nairobi said during the survey.

“When some girls see their friends looking nice, they also want the same. They show her how to get money and, in the process, she gets pregnant,” a 17-year-old girl in Kilifi said.

According to Office of the President Deputy Chief of Staff Ruth Kagia, the survey was commissioned to understand Covid-19 impacts on adolescents and come up with measures to minimise long-term negative impacts on their lives.

She says that as parents faced unemployment, adolescents, most of who were already living in resource constrained environments, experienced increased economic stress.

“Many were exposed to emotional, physical and sexual violence, and others became vulnerable to personal and social risks such as alcohol and drug abuse as well as teenage pregnancy. 

School dropouts 

Sobering statistics presented in this report of school dropout and teenage pregnancies, and lost learning momentum indicate urgent need for bold corrective action to prevent this cohort from becoming a lost generation,” she adds.

Areas covered by the survey were Nairobi, Kisumu, Kilifi and Wajir, with the report indicating that at the beginning of this year, 16 per cent of girls and eight per cent of boys in the target counties did not return to school.

A total of 1,022 interviews were conducted in Nairobi (Kibera, Huruma, Kariobangi, Dandora and Mathare), 602 in Kisumu, 1,063 in Kilifi and 1,234 in Wajir.

The average age of those interviewed was 16 years, 72 per cent of whom were female.

In the second round of data collection conducted in February this year, 498 students from the original cohort were interviewed in Nairobi, 403 in Kisumu, 717 in Kilifi and 1,129 in Wajir bringing the total to 2,747.

As far as mental health is concerned, the survey found that a significant proportion of adolescents reported experiencing depressive symptoms including stress during the pandemic.

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