Big debate on sex education and controversy of teen pregnancies
Experts say girls should get the right knowledge, then left to choose whether to abstain or not
As renewed debate on sex education continues after controversy over teen pregnancies, Mr Peter Mogaka rests easy with the knowledge that all his schooling daughters are on birth control.
Mr Mogaka, a sugarcane farmer in Kisii County, is happy that his daughters are almost done with their secondary education without any risk of falling pregnant.
He made the decision after a double tragedy. His eldest daughter, he says, became pregnant while in Standard Seven. She died while delivering.
“She was still very young and her organs were not well developed so she could not push the baby. They both died,” he recalls.
After that, birth control became an option.
“As a parent, I know the pain of losing a child to reckless sexual behaviour. No one should ever instruct me on how to handle my family affairs. I am not regretting it,” he says.
Mr Mogaka's decision is sure to rile the Catholic Church and other religious leaders, as its bishops on Tuesday said it is “intrinsically wrong” to give children contraceptives.
“We would like to emphasise the importance of responsible parenting instead of picking the short-term unethical solutions such as contraceptives,” said Bishop Philip Anyolo, the chairman of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops.
So, should parents just admit that mere talk won't help their children who become sexually active from an early age? A study released in April 2017 already concluded that teens want more than just talk.
Researchers from the Guttmacher and African Population and Health Research Centre interviewed 2,484 teenagers aged between 15 and 17 in Homa Bay, Mombasa and Nairobi counties. The outcome was that most of the teens wanted to know more about contraceptives, an admission that they were already sexually active.
So, sex education or contraception? Our interviews with various individuals yielded varying results.
Ms Esther Mbau from Amani Counselling Centre said girls should be given the right knowledge before they can choose whether to abstain or not.
“Before the contraceptives, I would advocate life skills training, and a lot of real talk with the girls,” said Ms Mbau.
For Mr Nelson Otwoma, the executive director of the National Empowerment Network of People Living with HIV and Aids in Kenya, it is important to give sex education to children before they become sexually active.
“We need to focus more on girls since they mature faster than boys and when they are at their prime stage, they tend to experiment a lot of things,” he said.
Mr Arthur Muriuki, a consulting psychologist, believes that not all teens are engaging in sex and that could be the starting point in the conversation.
“The question here then might be: Why are these teenagers not having sex and not getting pregnant? What knowledge might they have that their counterparts lack?” he posed.
The starting point, he said, is to have age-appropriate sex education because children are imbued with sexual innuendos all around them: from commercials, videos, househelps and older children.
“This child will want to try and do what they observe. If we ban the pornography sites, we heighten their curiosity. We create a black market ring,” Mr Muriuki said.
His comment on banning pornography was in reaction to remarks made early last week by Prof George Magoha, the chairman of the Kenya National Examinations Council. who said the blocking of pornographic sites will reduce the pregnancy crisis.
According to a December 2017 report by the United Nations Population Fund, some 78,397 adolescent girls in Kenya aged between 10 and 19 became pregnant between July 2016 and June 2017.
Another report released by the Education ministry in July this year identified Narok, Kilifi, Meru, Bungoma, Busia, Migori, Nairobi and Homa Bay as the counties most affected by the teenage pregnancy crisis.
The teen pregnancy crisis manifested itself during the national examinations that started from October. In Kilifi County, for instance, 13,624 teenage pregnancies had been reported between January and November.
The shocking number led the Gender ministry officials to choose Kilifi as the county of focus during this year's 16 Days of Activism that are geared towards reducing violence against women.
Ms Faith Kasiva, the Secretary for gender affairs in the State Department of Gender Affairs, told the
that one of the contributing factors in the Kilifi problem is culture, in that girls are supposed to sleep in houses quite far from their parents.
“For me, what was very disturbing again is that some of the pregnancies were from adolescent boys. It's really a concern,” added Ms Kasiva.
The experts we interviewed gave a raft of suggestions towards addressing the problem. Ms Mbau said a girl who has just hit puberty is usually in a confused state of mind.
I'll share from my own personal experience. There is a lot of confusion, a lot of self-doubt at that stage. If this girl has not had someone to talk to her and prepare her in advance, she may actually feel dirty. And this erodes her self-worth,” she said.
“What she will do, if she does not find a good mentor to help her through this very crucial stage, she will look for that self-worth in all the wrong places,” added Ms Mbau.
For Mr Muriuki, the banning of pornographic websites will do little to help. He says parents should play the biggest role.