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.

The Star (Kenya) - - Big Read - ALPHONCE GARI @alphonce2011

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.

PAR­ENT-CHILD RE­LA­TIONS

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.

/ALPHONCE GARI

Young ado­les­cents work­ing un­der DSW at Shar­i­ani, Kil­ifi county, carry plac­ards in sol­i­dar­ity with other girls in Kenya.

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