The recent reports on teenage pregnancies and prevalence of other traditional harmful practices among children in Kenya merits attention. We need a national concerted effort to deal with the menace.
While most of these practices have been outlawed in the country, some communities are clinging on them hence frustrating efforts to eradicate them.
Many of these harmful practices have stood in the way of the development of children into meaningful adults as they negatively affect the socio-cultural and economic growth of those affected.
Initially, a number of people dismissed the media’s focus on the issue of teenage pregnancies within the context of national examinations after it was reported that a number of candidates had delivered within that period.
But from data and studies from elsewhere, its apparent that children must be shielded from harmful traditional practices that prevalent in the country.
The campaign against such traditional harmful practices in Kenya requires not only political will, but also mass social mobilization and changing social norms and mindsets, a role the media can play. The media has the potential to influence national discourse on the issue, sway public opinion and assist in community mobilisation towards change of behaviour.
The Constitution outlaws traditional harmful cultural practices, including female genital mutilation, child marriages and intentional spreading of HIV. For example, the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act, 2011 criminalises the practice and provides heavy sanctions while at the same time providng new opportunities for total elimination of the practice.
The government in collaboration with various partners has devised methods devoted to education, community dialogues, engaging the youth, religious and traditional institutions, including other measures such as promotion of girls’ education as a protective measure.
The campaign against such traditional harmful practices in Kenya requires not only political will, but mass social mobilization and changing social norms and mindsets, a role that the community radio practitioners are well positioned to play.
A recent study by the National Council for Population and Development on the sexual and reproductive health situation among young people and sexuality education made a number of disturbing observations.
One in every five girls between 15-19 years have begun childbearing with approximately 13,000 girls dropping out of school each year due to pregnancy, while girls below the age of 19 account for 19 percent of all women seeking care for abortion related complications. It notes that 23 per cent of girls/young women aged 20-24 years are married by age 18 while 41 percent are married by 20 years.
Studies by the National Aids Control Council indicate that Kenya has made great strides towards bringing the national HIV prevalence from a high of 14 percent down to 5.9 per cent1 in 2016.
Young people however are increasingly those most affected by HIV with 29 percent of all adult new infections occurring among among adolescent girls and young women (AGYW).
There are more than 350 000 children and young people living with HIV. According to Kenya’s last demographic health survey, only 54 percent of AGYW and 64 per cent of adolescent boys and young men have comprehensive knowledge of HIV.
Teenage pregnancy is a further concern with 18 per cent 4 of adolescent girls aged 15-19 years have already started child bearing. Young people also face challenges related to gender based violence.