By Lynn Kabaka, National Syndemic Diseases Control Council
I hid my pregnancy for nine months.
Mercy, a teen mom had to sit for national exams in the ward as her mother closed the only family income-generating business to care for her teenage daughter.
“She laughed when they brought the baby to her, perhaps from shock or innocence.” Recounted Madam Angelica, mother to a teen mom. Ms Angelica vividly recalls the day her daughter Mercy’s life would take a complete change, squeezing the little family resources and the aftermath of teen pregnancy.
“For nine months, I had not seen any signs of pregnancy, save for a few suspicions here and there, but nothing substantial. Mercy behaved like any normal child. However, her constant complaints of stomach upsets made me doubt if everything was okay,” said Ms Angelica.
The mother of five resides on the outskirts of Machakos town, and Mercy is the last of her five children. During her final years in high school, Mercy met and befriended a boy in her village, and she became pregnant. Early pregnancy denied her the opportunity for childhood experiences.
“When I found out that I was pregnant, I hid it from my mother and teachers. Nobody could tell I was pregnant. I avoided engaging in the usual activities girls my age could do and was always in class when they were out playing. Mostly, I was overwhelmed with stress,” said Mercy.
Opening up is not easy
Her mother, a community health volunteer, would throw hints on the need to keep a pregnancy healthy and what is expected during that period to reassure the daughter of her support and encourage her to speak up.
“I was still afraid since I didn’t know her reaction,” confessed Mercy.
Early pregnancy causes disorientation in the nuclear family and child’s life. The teen mom’s education is disrupted, and she loses her socio-economic status. Mercy had to sit part of her secondary education in a maternity ward. Her mother, Angelica, had to close her small kiosk to care for Mercy who was clueless on caring for a newborn. They both agree it was very hard time and still is because Angelica shop remains closed to-date.
“Remember, I had no idea of this pregnancy, so we were not prepared at all. Remember, she had an exam to do. We organized that some papers are brought to her, but this required money, which we didn’t have at the time. I had to close shop to care for her and the baby. It was a tough time,” recounts Ms Angelica.
In 2021, Kenya recorded a total of 316,187 adolescent pregnancies. Of these, 294,364 pregnancies were among girls aged 15-19, while those aged 10-14 contributed to 21,823 of the total adolescent pregnancies.
Following the unprecedented increase in teen pregnancies, the National Syndemic Diseases Control Council embarked on a country-wide campaign dubbed ‘End The Triple Threat’ of teen pregnancy, new HIV infections and sexual and gender-based violence among adolescents aged 10-19. There has also been follow-up consultative dialogues in various counties in the Lower Eastern Region of Yatta, Machakos, Mavoko, Masinga, and Mwala, bringing together community gatekeepers, government officers, religious leaders, health and child rights experts, civil society organizations, and the youth.
During the discussions, peer pressure, sexual abuse, drug abuse, parental neglect, and transactional sex were identified as the main drivers of teen pregnancy. These meetings also allow for communities to discuss challenges and solutions affecting young people.
The 2010 Constitution of Kenya (Article 53) recognizes the right of all children to be protected from abuse, neglect, harmful cultural practices, all forms of violence, inhumane treatment and punishment, and hazardous or exploitative labour.