Reproductive health and rights have been conceptualized under several human rights instruments that Kenya has ratified. These instruments seek to entrench gender equality by stemming out discrimination against women and guaranteeing comprehensive rights to women including to control their reproductive health and to put an end to female genital mutilation. In spite of these instruments, abortion is restricted in Kenya and only applies in very limited situations, that is, where the continuation of the pregnancy poses a threat to the life of the woman.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and thereby every human being has a right to life. This right is safeguarded by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which states that no one shall be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Teenage pregnancy remains the biggest killer of teenage girls in the developing world.
Young women aged 15 to 19 are twice as likely to die from complications in pregnancy as compared to older women. The chances of death in the first year of life for a baby born to a woman under the age of 18 is 60 per cent greater than that of one born to woman aged 19 or older. Teenage pregnancy has been on the rise in Kenya for many years and the situation is likely to get out of hand if nothing is done. Several factors, including peer pressure, rape, cultural practices, lack of sexual awareness and abuse of alcohol and drugs have been attributed to teenage pregnancies, but the biggest association is with poverty.
This explains why teenage pregnancies are more usual in the rural parts of Kenya, especially among poor households. In the northern parts of Kenya for instance, early marriages are very common especially in times of crisis, a trend that has been referred to as drought brides. Violence against women also exposes many young girls to unwanted pregnancy and its various consequences.
The high mortality rate in the country can be linked to insufficient availability of comprehensive reproductive health services, lack of availability of safe abortion services and high rate of teenage pregnancy.
Considering that early marriages are more prominent in areas where poverty is high and education levels are low, awareness campaigns, as well as, initiatives that could raise the living standards of those affected could go a great way in alleviating cases of teenage pregnancies. Sex education is also critical to teenagers especially as most parents shy away from discussing sex with their children.
In the Kenyan culture, sex is still a taboo subject and any issues related to sex are meant to be discussed in the married couple’s bedroom. It is rarely discussed in public although some communities offer sex lessons to brides-to-be, but in isolation. However, the society in general has changed, and sexual activity is frequently shown through the media with children as young as 10 years old being exposed and the internet is the least controlled media.
The confusing absence of discussion by parents and educators, yet the seeming promotion of sexual activity on TV and the internet and indeed advertising, could well be a factor in promoting teenage experimentation, and eventual pregnancy. Increased levels of knowledge about modern methods of contraception, as well as, making them available and affordable is very essential.
If teenage pregnancy is to be controlled and reduced we must realize that the solution lies in a shared responsibility that incorporates communities, the government and other stake holders and the teenagers themselves.
The Kenyan government should recognize and respect and raise awareness on Article 14 of the Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa (the Maputo Protocol), which calls upon state parties to to ensure that the right to health of women, including sexual and reproductive health, is respected and promoted. And also the Africa Health Strategy developed and adopted during the 3rd Ordinary Session of the AU Conference of Ministers which provides in Article 86 that,
The health system should mainstream gender into health policy, seek elimination of all forms of violence against women, amongst other factors, recognizing the morbidity and mortality from unsafe abortions, safe abortion services should be included, as far as the law allows.
Read more related posts on Girls’ Globe:
- Maternal Mortality: When Numbers Speak Volumes, by Farah Mohammed
- Youth Vows on Family Planning, by Amanda Banura Joan
- 3 Lessons for Kenya from the International Conference on Family, by Mercy Owur
Image credit: Nelly Lukale