POVERTY, TABOOS PUSH KILIFI GIRLS TO SEX PESTS TO GET MONEY FOR SANITARY PADS
Parents do not talk freely with their children about sexual reproductive health and rights matters. They can only afford to buy food, exposing adolescent girls to exploitation by boda boda operators.
Most adolescent girls from poor families in Kilifi county cannot ask their fathers for money to buy sanitary pads during their first menstruation periods. They ask indirectly through their mothers or borrow from colleagues, when they reach puberty.
Unlike girls who can freely express any differences in their body to their parents, the poor girls cannot openly go near their father, and in case that happens, not in the absence of their mothers. Both parents and the adolescent girls admit that culture refrains them from discussing sexual and reproductive health freely. The girls fear being insulted or regarded as lacking respect for elders.
As such, girls risk turning to other men in their search for sanitary towels and other basic requirements, such as body oil, clothes and inner wears. Boda boda operators and other adults lure them with cash for sex. This often leads to early pregnancies and school dropouts.
CLOTHES USED AS PADS
This emerged on Wednesday during the Adolescent Girls’ Week and Forum events at Shariani Primary School, attended by more than 100 adolescent boys and girls, parents, Christian and Islamic religious leaders. The events were organised by Deutsche Stiftung Welt-bevoelkerung, an international NGO advocating empowerment of youths through the Young Adolescents’ Project in Kenya.
Mentors from the YAP project held joint and separate sessions with the adolescents and the parents to discuss the day-to-day challenges affecting girls during adolescence. Parents and clerics held a separate forum with the mentors over the challenges they face in bringing up adolescent girls.
Parents were told they have a big role to play in ensuring girls and even boys are not spoilt during puberty. Speakers said in their homes, a girl having menstruation for the first time may not be properly equipped, as parents prioritise getting daily bread.
Some fathers tell their wives to show the girls the ‘traditional way’ of using old piece of clothes during menstruation, instead of buying pads. This is because the little money earned is meant to buy food for the family. Moreover, some adolescent girls live with one underwear and very few clothes. Such challenges put girls at risk of engaging in early sex, as they easily fall prey to sex predators.
YAP mentor Ali Ibrahim said girls face big problems during adolescence, which lead to early pregnancy, early marriages, sexual violence and exploitation. “Girls normally lack sanitary pads during menstruation. They are exposed to discos and boda boda operators,” he said.
Ibrahim said since the project started in 2013, they have found the only way to address the problem is to enable parents and the leaders to open up. They encourage parents to talk freely with their children about sexual reproductive health and rights matters.
The mentor said early marriage is not a solution, as it denies girls the right to education. “It’s against the law to marry off a child who gets pregnant early,” he said.
Ibrahim said the YAP project deals with both sexes equally, as it is the only way they can assist one another through the life skills acquired. Apart from early sex, adolescent boys and girls are usually at risk of engaging in drug abuse and other immoral behaviours.
The YAP project equips young adolescents with appropriate sexual reproductive health and rights information to help them make informed decisions about their health and future. It seeks to retain more adolescent girls in school by helping them avoid early pregnancy. The project has helped to create a smooth relationship between adolescents, their parents and teachers.
At one point, the parents engaged in a heated debate over the role of parents in bringing up girls at home. Parent Josephine Bakari from Shariani said girls must be free to report the onset of menstruation to their parents.
Young adolescents working under DSW at Shariani, Kilifi county, carry placards in solidarity with other girls in Kenya.