Is there an ‘epi­demic’ of teenage preg­nan­cies?

Daily Nation (Kenya) - - REGULARS -

Kenyans are now seized of a new con­ver­sa­tion, this time on the “rise” in teenage preg­nan­cies. The me­dia has in­creased fo­cus on preg­nan­cies among mi­nors, es­pe­cially around the re­cently con­cluded pri­mary and sec­ondary school ex­am­i­na­tions. Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and other pub­lic fig­ures are all lin­ing up to pro­vide so­lu­tions, with some be­ing based on con­ven­tional wis­dom, oth­ers based on per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence, and all of them hav­ing lit­tle truth or prac­ti­cal use­ful­ness.

We have seen se­nior gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials say­ing those re­spon­si­ble for teenage preg­nan­cies should be hanged or jailed for life. Oth­ers have sug­gested that the men re­spon­si­ble be cas­trated and treated as out­casts. We have even seen oth­ers link­ing teenage preg­nan­cies to pornog­ra­phy on the In­ter­net and on tele­vi­sion, and thereby calling for the cen­sor­ing or con­trol of ac­cess to pornog­ra­phy as a way of re­duc­ing teenage preg­nan­cies.

We must first be­gin by de­con­struct­ing the idea that teenage preg­nan­cies are nec­es­sar­ily on the rise. Preg­nancy sta­tis­tics will in­di­cate that the re­pro­duc­tive age for women is con­ven­tion­ally con­sid­ered to be be­tween 15 and 40 or 45. The most fer­tile pe­riod for a woman would be be­tween the ages of 15 and 25 and, there­fore, it shouldn't sur­prise us if many girls and women in that age group be­came preg­nant. Since we as a coun­try de­cided that we do not want our chil­dren get­ting preg­nant, we must put cer­tain poli­cies and laws in place to pre­vent it. Killing or cas­trat­ing the men re­spon­si­ble does very lit­tle to deal with it.

The key is­sue is that we need to de­lay sex­ual de­but for our boys and girls, and en­sure that those that have early sex­ual ac­tiv­ity do not get preg­nant and put their own lives at risk. The aim of the pol­icy should be to en­sure that our girls do not start their re­pro­duc­tive life so early that they jeop­ar­dise their phys­i­cal, psy­cho­log­i­cal and so­cial health. To ad­dress this prob­lem we must come up with in­ter­ven­tions that achieve that goal. Ban­ning pornog­ra­phy or killing men and boys will not nec­es­sar­ily re­duce teenage preg­nancy, but will have far wider so­cial ram­i­fi­ca­tions.

The rea­sons young girls are get­ting preg­nant be­fore the age of 18 are many and var­ied, and in­clude in­stances in this coun­try where early mar­riage is still en­cour­aged and con­doned in some places. Girls as young as 10 to 15 years are en­gaged to men the age of their grand­par­ents. Even more rel­e­vant in “ur­ban” set­tings, young girls and boys ex­per­i­ment with sex­u­al­ity and some end up get­ting preg­nant. Un­der­stand­ing these dy­nam­ics would help re­duce the rate of teenage preg­nan­cies.

What has been proved to work are mea­sures that en­sure that girls go to school and make mar­riage de­ci­sions later in their lives, with­out the pres­sure of be­ing en­gaged to older men be­fore they are even out of pri­mary school.

Sex ed­u­ca­tion in schools and other so­cial set­tings (in­clud­ing re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tions and youth gath­er­ings) is also a use­ful way to be­gin help­ing young boys and girls to un­der­stand the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of their sex­ual choices and be­hav­iours, hope­fully re­sult­ing in be­hav­iour change and re­duc­ing un­wanted preg­nan­cies among our youth.

Teenage preg­nancy is an old phe­nom­e­non re­quir­ing in­no­va­tive meth­ods to ad­dress. Knee-jerk re­ac­tions go­ing as far as clos­ing down the In­ter­net will not pre­vent them.

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