Study­ing for KCSE and rais­ing my two-month-old baby has not been a walk in the park

The Star (Kenya) - - Big Read / Girl Child - MONICAH MWANGI @mon­ic­ahmwangi

Eigh­teen-year-old Mercy Muthoni had dif­fi­cul­ties con­cen­trat­ing as she gave her speech dur­ing the launch of a re­port on the state of the world pop­u­la­tion.

Mercy was speak­ing on be­half of ado­les­cent girls but she had a more press­ing is­sue to at­tend to. Her twom­onth-old baby, Rus­sel Maina, had be­gun to cry sig­nalling the need to be breast­fed.

The form four girl from Kangemi slum elicited strong emo­tions as she nar­rated the chal­lenges faced by ado­les­cent girls be­fore reach­ing ma­tu­rity.

“Time is ripe for the coun­try to pun­ish men who abuse young girls be­fore they be­gin pu­berty. Let us take con­crete steps to putting into place laws en­forc­ing le­gal equal­ity for girls,” she said.

Re­gard­ing the con­tro­ver­sial debate on avail­ing sex­ual in­for­ma­tion to the young, Mercy said this needed to be done sooner than later.

“We need com­pre­hen­sive sex­ual ed­u­ca­tion just at the start of pu­berty. If I got the in­for­ma­tion I needed at that time, I would not be a teenage mother,” said an emo­tional Mercy.

Warn­ing young girls who are in school, Mercy who is cur­rently sit­ting for her KCSE ex­am­i­na­tions said “read­ing and con­cur­rently singing lul­la­bies is not a walk in the park.”

“It has not been easy jug­gling be­tween stud­ies and breast­feed­ing. I was ad­vised by so many peo­ple to abort the baby but I chose to keep it,” said Mercy who has been raised by a sin­gle mother.

The pupil at Ak­iba Sec­ondary school in Kangemi said most of her school mates were shocked by her de­ci­sion not to abort. “Most of them aborted and moved on with life like noth­ing hap­pened and they en­cour­aged me to do it but I re­fused,” she said.

Mercy said though her mother was shocked to learn she was preg­nant, she has since come along and is her sup­port sys­tem. “I man­aged to hide the preg­nancy un­til five months when I started show­ing and had to open up to her,” she said.

Teenage preg­nancy rate has re­mained un­changed since 2008, with 18 per cent of the girls get­ting preg­nant be­fore they get 18 years.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port by the United Na­tions Pop­u­la­tion Fund, one in ev­ery five teenage girls be­tween 15-19 years have ei­ther had a live birth or are preg­nant with their first child.

Narok county has the high­est num­ber of teenage preg­nan­cies at 40.4 per cent, higher than the na­tional av­er­age of 18 per cent.

“Fer­til­ity rate for girls aged 15-19 in Narok is 225 births per 1,000 girls, more than two times higher than the na­tional level, which is 96 and the high­est in the coun­try,” says the re­port. It noted an un­met con­tra­cep­tive need among mar­ried ado­les­cents in Narok.

“Only 12 per cent of mar­ried girls be­tween 15-19 use con­tra­cep­tives, which is three times lower than the na­tional level,” the re­port said.

Other coun­ties with a high num­ber of teenage preg­nan­cies in­clude Homa Bay ( 33.3 per cent), West Pokot ( 28.6 per cent), Tana River ( 28 per cent), Nyamira ( 27 per cent) and Nairobi ( 17.8 per cent). Mu­rang’a has the low­est at six per cent.

Plan­ning and statis­tics PS Saitoti Torome has said there is need to fo­cus on the teenage girls and putting in place mea­sures to pro­tect them from preg­nan­cies. “We need to ex­ploit the tal­ents of our chil­dren and espe­cially girls by stop­ping early preg­nan­cies and mar­riages.”

“This im­plies many girls con­tinue to drop out of school and ex­pe­ri­ence health re­lated chal­lenges, in­clud­ing mor­tal­ity and mor­bid­ity due to birth re­lated com­pli­ca­tions and un­safe abor­tion. The girls are in some in­stances forced into early mar­riages,” Na­tional Coun­cil for Pop­u­la­tion and Devel­op­ment direc­tor gen­eral Josephine Kibaru said.

PS Torome made ref­er­ence of the theme of the re­port – The Girl at 10: Achiev­ing SDGs De­pends on Her- which he said re­flected the chal­lenges young girls face be­fore adult­hood.

It was noted that 10 per cent of girls be­tween five to 10 years are en­gaged in chid labour most of them work­ing for up to 28 hours a week with three out of four of them not paid for the work.

“Many 10 year old girls’ rights are vi­o­lated and many be­come labour­ers, house helps or wives/moth­ers, cur­tail­ing their child­hood as­pi­ra­tions,” said Torome.

/MONICAH MWANGI

Mary Muthoni, an 18-yearold form four stu­dent at Ak­iba school in Kangemi with her two-month-old baby ear­lier this month. Muthoni is sit­ting her KCSE ex­am­i­na­tions and will have to bal­ance be­tween stud­ies and par­ent­hood

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