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