The rate of teen pregnancies in Kenya has remained largely unchanged over the years, a survey shows, turning the spotlight on the effectiveness of ongoing initiatives aimed at curbing the problem.
Pregnancy among teens aged 15-19 stands at about 18.1 percent — an insignificant change since 1993 when it was estimated at 20.5 percent, according to a report by the African Institute for Development Policy (AFIDEP).
Narok, Samburu and West Pokot top in teenage pregnancies in Kenya, a new survey showed, underlining the struggles to end retrogressive practices among some pastoral communities which exposed young girls to early sex.
An estimated 68 percent of girls aged 15-24 years in Narok have ever fallen pregnant, according to AFIDEP. The situation is equally bad in Samburu and West Pokot.
Teenage pregnancies remain a challenge in pastoralist communities partly due to cultural practices such as early marriages, polygamy, low literacy levels, especially among women and low access to contraceptives.
Pastoral communities are the most polygamous in Kenya, according to a survey by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.
Mandera recorded the highest number of polygamous unions (35 percent), followed by West Pokot (25 per cent), Turkana (20.3 per cent) and Narok (16.9 per cent) — partly explaining why teenage pregnancies may be rife in pastoral counties.
In contrast, counties in central Kenya recorded low levels of polygamous unions. At the county level, the highest proportion of the population in monogamous unions was recorded in Kirinyaga (63.3 per cent) followed by Nakuru (62.6 per cent) and Nyandarua (61.8 per cent).
The high teen pregnancies in the pastoral counties have also been linked to low access and use of contraceptives.
Research by the Performance Monitoring and Accountability (PMA 2020) reveals that there is markedly low use of contraceptives in pastoral counties with Mandera and Wajir both registering a usage of just two per cent. Others are Garissa (six per cent), Turkana (10 per cent), Marsabit (12 per cent) and West Pokot (14 per cent).
Central Kenya tops in the use of contraceptives among women.
An estimated 73 per cent of women in the region use birth control devices and drugs — collectively known as contraceptives.
The region is followed by eastern at 70 percent and Nairobi with 63 per cent. The use of contraceptives is lowest among women in northeastern at three percent, Coast at 44 percent and Rift Valley at 53 percent.
In terms of individual counties, Kirinyaga tops countrywide at 81 per cent against a national average of 58 percent. Others with high rates of contraceptive use are Makueni (80 percent), Meru (78 percent), Machakos (76 percent), Tharaka Nithi (74 per ent) and Kiambu (74 per cent).
The Health ministry targets to increase the number of 15-19-year-old women — both single and married-accessing modern contraceptives by 10 percent.
The National Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Policy is dedicated to reducing early and unintended pregnancies by enhancing the existing service provision channels to provide accurate information and services on a wide range of contraceptive methods to capture the diverse needs of adolescents. The ultimate goal is to reduce teen childbearing from 17.7 percent in 2009 to eight percent by 2030. Currently, the research by AFIDEP shows that only 43 per cent of all women aged 15 to 49 have access to modern contraception while only 13 percent of those aged 18-24 have access to contraception.
Pregnancies among schoolgirls continue to be a leading cause of school dropouts, accounting for about 25 percent of dropouts in sub-Saharan Africa, yet evidence shows that each extra year a girl stays in school increases their future earnings by 10-20 percent.
Experts at AFIDEP and United Nations Population Fund have proposed wide-ranging interventions to lower teen pregnancies to eight percent teen by 2030.
They said comprehensive sex education would help curb early pregnancies among schoolgoing girls. The experts also recommended for a sustained campaign against harmful cultural practices which fanned teen pregnancies and improved access to modern contraceptives.
Although there are diverse types of contraceptives in the market, implants have become the most popular, supplanting injectable, especially among poor and uneducated women in Kenya who are taking advantage of free facilities in public health centres, a different survey recently showed.