BI­CY­CLE SO­LU­TION TO TEENAGE PREG­NANCY

A report re­leased re­cently on ex­plain­ing the root causes of early preg­nan­cies lay the blame squarely on teach­ers and boda boda rid­ers

The Star (Kenya) - - Big Read / The Girl Child - BY MIRIAM LESENI @thes­tarkenya *Irene Wa­fula - not real name

*Irene Wa­fula’s life took a sharp turn two years ago when she fell preg­nant at only 17 years, while still a form three stu­dent at Ma­hanga ‘K’ Sec­ondary School in Ma­hanga vil­lage, Kakamega county, Western Kenya.

Un­for­tu­nately, hers was not the only case. There were other girls who had to choose be­tween early moth­er­hood and an ed­u­ca­tion.

These in­ci­dents con­firm ear­lier re­ports that ado­les­cent and teenage preg­nan­cies were on the rise. The 2013 Kenya Pop­u­la­tion Sit­u­a­tion Anal­y­sis, for in­stance, showed that 103 in ev­ery 1,000 preg­nan­cies are at­trib­uted to girls be­tween 15 and 19.

“Aca­demic and child wel­fare stake­hold­ers be­came very con­cerned, and a so­lu­tion was quickly needed be­fore all our girls dropped out of school due to early preg­nancy,” ex­plains Ju­dith Okungu, a child well be­ing fa­cil­i­ta­tor at the World Vi­sion.

There were other con­cerns, too. Re­ports showed that Aids is a lead­ing cause of death for African teens, par­tic­u­larly the 2015 study re­leased by the United Na­tions Chil­dren’s Fund (Unicef), ti­tled ‘Sta­tis­ti­cal Up­date on Chil­dren, Ado­les­cents and Aids’.

Even more alarm­ing is the fact that Kenya is one of the six coun­tries ac­count­ing for nearly half of the world’s young peo­ple aged 15 to 19 years liv­ing with HIV. Other than In­dia, the rest are in Africa, and they in­clude Mozam­bique, Nige­ria, South Africa and Tan­za­nia.

The Min­istry of Health’s fast-track plan to end HIV and Aids shows that only an es­ti­mated 24 per cent of teens aged 15 to 19 know their HIV sta­tus. Still in this age group, only about half have ever tested for HIV.

CY­CLING SO­LU­TION

Against this back­drop and the dev­as­tat­ing im­pli­ca­tion the sce­nario has on the ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor and the well-be­ing of chil­dren across the coun­try, the World Vi­sion teamed up with the World Bi­cy­cle Re­lief un­der a project dubbed Bi­cy­cle Ed­u­ca­tion Em­pow­er­ment Pro­gramme in a unique way to get to the root of the prob­lem.

This is par­tic­u­larly due to the fact that the 2013 Kenya Pop­u­la­tion Sit­u­a­tion Anal­y­sis Report fur­ther showed that 26 in ev­ery 100 girls in Kenya are mar­ried be­fore they reach 18 years.

“Aca­demic stake­hold­ers had re­alised that girls in com­mu­ni­ties where stu­dents walk long dis­tances to get to school were the most vul­ner­a­ble,” ex­plains Enock Keya, the head teacher, Ma­hanga ‘K’ Sec­ondary School.

SEX PESTS

He ex­plains that on the way to school, the girls are lured by boda boda op­er­a­tors with free rides and a lit­tle pocket money and be­fore they know it, the girl falls preg­nant.

The 2015 Na­tional Ado­les­cent and Youth pre­lim­i­nary report re­leased re­cently on ex­plain­ing the root causes of early preg­nan­cies lay the blame squarely at the foot of teach­ers and boda boda rid­ers.

Con­firm­ing ear­lier con­cerns over un­safe ado­les­cent sex be­hav­iour, the report re­vealed that ap­prox­i­mately 47 per cent of young women aged 18 and 24 and their male coun­ter­parts had their first sex­ual ex­pe­ri­ence be­fore the age of 18.

Fur­ther show­ing that at least 15 per­cent of young women be­tween the ages of 15 and 19 are al­ready moth­ers and that three per­cent are preg­nant with their first child.

Wa­fula says fel­low stu­dents were also cul­prits. “They es­cort us home or to school be­cause of the early and late hours. School of­ten ends just be­fore six so if you are walk­ing for three kilo­me­ters and it is through bushes you feel scared,” she said.

She says that this long trek of­ten leads to a “special friend­ship when one par­tic­u­lar boy es­corts you and soon you find that you are preg­nant”.

Wa­fula fur­ther says that be­cause the girls who have fallen prey are of­ten so young some even in Form one, they do not re­alise what is happening to their body un­til the preg­nancy be­gins to show.

“I started ad­ding a lot of weight all over sud­den and feel­ing un­com­fort­able since peo­ple were teas­ing me. I did not know that it was be­cause I was preg­nant,” she says.

THIS LONG TREK FROM SCHOOL OF MORE THAN THREE KILO­ME­TRES OF­TEN LEADS TO BOYS ES­CORT­ING THE GIRLS HOME, THUS A “SPECIAL FRIEND­SHIP” DE­VEL­OPS AND THE GIRL SOON FINDS OUT SHE IS PREG­NANT... AT LEAST 15 PER CENT ARE AL­READY MOTH­ERS.

Car­ry­ing the preg­nancy to term and the ac­tual de­liv­ery was a dif­fi­cult ex­pe­ri­ence for young Wa­fula whose body and mind were not pre­pared for the rig­ors of child birth.

But after the preg­nancy her mother en­cour­aged her to go back to school but be­ing both stu­dent and mother was a dif­fi­cult bal­ance to strike.

“I would get to school very late since I had to breast­feed and get home too late to prop­erly spend time with my child. Then I was ap­proached and told that stu­dents were be­ing given bi­cy­cles,” she says.

DOU­BLE BLESS­ING

Ac­cord­ing to Okungu, bi­cy­cles have be­come a dou­ble bless­ing. They are a so­lu­tion and are pre­vent­ing fur­ther preg­nan­cies, while also as­sist­ing those al­ready preg­nant to cope with the new re­spon­si­bil­i­ties by get­ting to school on time and be­ing home be­fore dark.

“When girls ride their own bi­cy­cles they do so in groups and so other men are in­tim­i­dated and are un­able to ap­proach them as a group com­pared to when a girl would just wan­der home alone,” Keya ob­serves.

He fur­ther says that boda boda rid­ers can­not lure them with free rides be­cause they al­ready have their own.

Stu­dents and other young men look­ing to lure the girls are also locked out “and since this pro­gram launched last year we have seen sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment,” he adds.

He says that the grades are higher since most stu­dents who walk long dis­tances can get to school on time and stay till late.

The school has not ex­pe­ri­enced ad­di­tional cases of preg­nan­cies, and for the first time in the his­tory of the school, girls are catch­ing up with the boys in all sub­jects.

The bi­cy­cles were orig­i­nally meant to as­sist stu­dents walk­ing long dis­tances to ac­cess school but have ended up serv­ing a more no­ble cause.

El­i­gi­ble stu­dents are those walk­ing at least three kilo­me­tres daily to ac­cess an ed­u­ca­tion and although boys have ben­e­fit­ted too there is a bias to­wards the girl child.

An es­ti­mated 889 bi­cy­cles have been given to stu­dents in Si­aya, Uasin Gishu and Kakamega.

Stu­dents are only re­quired to pay Sh1,000 for the spare parts and the bi­cy­cle of­fi­cially be­comes theirs.

Guardians and par­ents are al­lowed to use the bi­cy­cles over the week­end to run er­rands, such as go­ing to the posho mill, but they can­not use the bi­cy­cles dur­ing school days. The area chief and other aca­demic stake­hold­ers are also in­volved to en­sure the rules and reg­u­la­tions are fol­lowed to the let­ter.

THE BI­CY­CLES WERE ORIG­I­NALLY MEANT TO AS­SIST STU­DENTS WALK­ING LONG DIS­TANCES TO AC­CESS SCHOOL BUT HAVE ENDED UP SERV­ING A MORE NO­BLE CAUSE... AN ES­TI­MATED 889 BI­CY­CLES HAVE BEEN GIVEN TO STU­DENTS IN SI­AYA, UASIN GISHU AND KAKAMEGA.

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