teen pregnancy is keeping girls out of school in Kenya

Early pregnancy is a major obstacle to young girls gaining an education across Africa. Alex blogs on the issue, and some of the initiatives that could help keep girls in education.

Teenage pregnancy has remained a major health and social concern because it’s highly associated with high maternal and child morbidity and mortality. In Kenya, teenage pregnancy is not only a reproductive health issue, but is also a all rounded issue  as it directly affects the current and future socio-economic well-being of women.

Childbearing during the teenage years affects female educational attainment, as young girls who become mothers in their teen period become more likely to curtail their education.

The scale of the problem

Kilifi and Homa Bay Counties in the former Coast and Nyanza Provinces of Kenya respectively experience high unintended teenage pregnancy rates. Despite there being a policy that allows young mothers to return to school, both areas have a high female school dropout rate. Past research in the regions have highlighted three main obstacles:

  • School staff lacking clarity on the re-entry policy
  • Teenage mothers, their parents, and communities being unaware of the rights of teen mothers to return to school
  • Relevant ministries of Education neglecting monitoring of the school re-entry of teen mothers.

In Homa Bay County, 33.3 % of 15- to 19-year-old girls are pregnant or have given birth, well above the national average of 18 percent, according to the 2014 Kenya Demographic Health Survey. Kilifi County has rate of 21.8%

According to research conducted by Plan International Kenya (2012) child marriage stands at 47.4%, cultural practices such as village dances and funerals are largely to blame for the rising teenage pregnancies. This is because such festivities attract a large number of unsupervised children who are likely to engage in risky behaviors. Culture seems to tolerate the vice.

A major factor limiting access to education

Population Council (2015) carried out a household and school survey in Homa Bay to measure key variables, which include awareness of school re-entry policies and policy content, supportive structures and practices around school re-entry, and actual school re-entry by out-of-school teenage mothers. From the 728 teenage girls aged 13–19 who were interviewed, pregnancy was the main reason why most teenage mothers left school.

School re-entry by parenting girls is viewed as more acceptable than school continuation by pregnant learners. Key informants (out-of-school teenage mothers, their household heads, students, and school principals) had more positive views of school re-entry for teenage mothers than of school continuation by pregnant learners. Financial constraints and child care have been highlighted as some of the key barriers that prohibit school re-entry for teenage mothers.

There are lots of myths and misconceptions about family planning. Some of them include "you can give birth to an animal”, "your child will be born looking weird’’ , “ Condoms go all the way up into the stomach and don't come out."

The Kenyan Policy Framework

Kenya introduced ‘return to school' policy for teenage mums in 1994. A girl that gets pregnant is supposed to be allowed to remain in school for as long as she thinks she can. After delivery, she is supposed to be allowed to go back or be given support to gain admission into another secondary school if she feels there are issues of stigma and discrimination. The policy also says that pregnant schoolgirls and their parents should receive counseling. Despite the policy being there, a lot of school staff are not well versed in it

What can we do

1. Policy dialogue and advocacy

The International Centre for Reproductive Health (ICRH) Kenya carried out a rapid assessment on the teenage pregnancy research study late 2015 by documenting the views of key influencers in Kilifi County. The results will be disseminated and shared to the County government after which the media will be engaged in advocacy and communication - we can all play our part in advocating decision makers to tackle this issue head on.

2. Awareness of policies:

There's clearly an issue around the level to which people know about policies which facilitate school continuation or re-entry for young pregnant girls. This needs to be enhanced - we can do so with more effective training of teachers, and awareness raising with affected communities.

3. Interventional media campaigns

Another notable intervention to enhance the access of teen mothers to education is media engagement by running radio programs. These radio program draws on real-life stories of teenage motherhood by interviewing girls who have experienced it.

The program not only has to focus on the teens but also individuals in their support system such as parents/guardians, school staff , mandated County Departments and other technical experts in reinforcing messages to support school re-entry for girls who have been pregnant

I believe that by tacking an approach which incorporates elements of these 3 solutions, we can make real headway towards ensuring that no more girls face exclusion from education due to pregnancy or childbirth.