Lockdown in Kenya and Teen pregnancy
Unintended teen pregnancies among adolescent girls and young women is not a contemporary issue. But rather something that has been occurring since time immemorial. And this is something that the society still treats like the most sinful act of all. The pandemic has only catalysed some of the gender inequalities that have been woven in our societal fabrics for generations. One of them being the consequences of teen pregnancy.
Adolescent girls and young women are now more exposed to sexual exploitation and child marriage given the closure of schools. The situation is dire for girls in rural areas and isolated geographical locations, where there is low tech and no Internet access. With a lot of time at their disposal they engage in unhealthy sexual activities, leaving them more vulnerable to pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
Not much attention is being given to the mental health impact that unplanned pregnancy currently has on their lives. Most of them will be faced with long term life consequences that they are not even aware of.
Pieces of evidence from the previous pandemics (UN Women Response) have shown that adolescent girls are at higher risk of dropping out and not returning to school when the crisis is over. This is evident with the Covid-19 pandemic where countries like Kenya have recorded the highest teen pregnancies; according to the latest data released by The Kenya Government Health Information Survey. In the past five month Kenya has recorded close to 4,000 teenage pregnancies.
In most cases, these girls will not resume schooling. They will face some of the harshest discriminatory social norms, as if they managed to get pregnant on their own. Some will have to make some of the hardest decisions of their lives.
Several NGOs and individuals have come out volunteering to donate monetary items like diapers and sanitary towels. But is this enough? These girls need psychological help more than they need anything else. Because they are discriminated against and rejected by the people that are responsible for their predicament, and the people that should be there for them, it’s not uncommon for them to experience mental health issues, such as suicidal thoughts. They are most likely to experience isolation and loneliness, with no one to talk to them, comfort them and just to tell them that everything is gonna be okay, and that the pain they are currently feeling will eventually get better.
These girls must now learn how to navigate a society that has already defined them; when they are just discovering and defining who they are. And to paraphrase Michelle Obama – these girls will now have to push back the stereotypes that have been put on them. They will have to fight even harder to overcome a society that has already made them invisible for being poor. So what are some practical ways that we as individuals can help?
Practical ways to help
To our Kenyan readers, if you know some young girl who is now pregnant, please be the hope they might need. Be kind because you might just save two lives.
Mental health – I know our culture is still not open to conversations around mental health, but I think this is something that is very important especially to a teenage girl with an unplanned pregnancy. So help them to seek counselling.
Adoption – It’s good to know what options they might have to choose from. If you can afford it help them to seek legal advice around adoption. And while making this decision they should seek counselling to help you make sound and lawful decisions.
Parenthood – Most mothers talk about the beauty of motherhood but I’m sure it’s different for every mother, and every pregnancy is different, if you are a mother, share what it means to be a mother, the pleasant and the not so pleasant things surrounding pregnancy.
Education – Pregnancy takes two parties, so don’t just educate young girls , include the boys too in the conversation.
Mentorship – Become a mentor to young girls. If you are not ready to be one give them direction on how to find one.
Policy makers – Do you know any policy makers? Start a conversation to:
- Increase women participation and involvement and maybe include female youths in the sharing of power and decision making at all levels, this can help and reduce teen pregnancy that has spiked since the emergence of COVID-19 lockdown.
- Create a safe delivery campaign for these young girls, to reduce the risk associated with early pregnancies.
- Explore sufficient mechanisms at all levels to promote the advancement of women and young girls.
Phelicitus is a Social counselors, who love sharing information around mental health awareness. Mental health is something that is still a taboo in many cultures. Through her writtings she hopes to encourage people to seek medical advice and not be ashamed to talk about how they feel.