West Pokot County is reporting an alarming rate of teenage pregnancies where the County has recorded more than ten thousand teenage pregnancies for the last one year since Covid-19 pandemic started.
Records from the Kenya District Health Information System[KDIS] by the Declares Kenya Community based Organization shows that at least 800 pregnancy cases have been reported among teenage girls of between the age bracket of 10-19 every month who visits health centers for antenatal care services due to effects of Covid 19,since March,2020
A total of eight pregnant young girls in the County delivered in hospitals while sitting for their Kenya Certificate of Primary Education [KCPE] 2020 class.
Three out of 10 teenage girls have either had their first child or are pregnant with their first born.
The County is among the top three in the country in teenage pregnancies at 29 % with low uptake of child spacing methods of 8.6 % as traditional beliefs still hamper the efforts of women who have the desire of practicing family planning.
Despite efforts by different stakeholders in education and child protection to find solutions, many school girls are victims of early and unwanted pregnancies.
The County has the fertility rate of 7.2 % with an average poverty level of 67 % compared to the national level of 45% based on the 2014 Kenya Demographic Health Survey [KDHS] report.
Declares Kenya Director Jefferson Mudaki said that Covid-19 is now a big contributor because learners stayed at home for seven months.
Mudaki noted that thousands of girls and women in the County are still being robbed of their life chances by being denied use of contraceptives as the community still holds on a cultural belief that women were meant to give birth to more children in the community for them to be respected and the dowry paid could not go to waste.
Mr Mudaki pointed out that the County is grappling with low uptake of contraceptives because of cultural and traditional beliefs which hamper the efforts of women who have the desire of practicing family planning.
“Every woman in West Pokot has an average of 7-8 children; Poverty index is very high with little resources. The County gets 6.5 billion shillings per year with a population of 800,000 people by 2020 meaning allowance per capita is 8,350 shillings where 70% residents are living one dollar per day,”said Mudaki.
Speaking to the press yesterday in Kapenguria, Mr Mudaki expressed concern about the high unintended pregnancies which have led to population explosion in the region.
“Teenage pregnancy has become one of the big menace in the County, this is a pastoral community where issues of sexuality are not discussed openly, it is a taboo,”he said.
He cautioned area leaders and duty bearers over giving out misleading statements urging residents to sire more children for votes.
“Adolescents don’t make their own informed choice as leaders and elder’s decide for them. We have been championing issues on reproductive health, giving information for them to understand sexuality and family planning. We engage adolescents in talk a show, online dialogue platforms for charts and advocacy through the media,” said Mudaki.
According to Mr. Mudaki, teenage girls have been trapped in the teenage pregnancy bracket as their hope of completing their education, starting a career or becoming financially independent is deemed.
“When women and girls have access to contraception, everybody wins: fewer girls drop out of school, fewer mothers die giving birth and more young women enter the workforce. Multiply that by millions, and it becomes clear why contraception is one of the smartest investments countries can make,” Mudaki noted
He added that ensuring young people have the information they need about sex is a real challenge, particularly in societies where unmarried teenagers are excluded from receiving information and sexual health services and still men remain decision makers in family planning issues.
World Vision Girl Child Protection Officer Teresa Cheptoo who is an anti female genital mutilation champion in the county blamed night parties and ceremonies one of the factors that contribute to high fertility rate in the County.
Ms Cheptoo called on the national and county governments to invest in family planning and youth friendly sexual and reproductive health services.
She noted that schools in interior places are recording few children.
“There is a need to set up safer houses for girls. We hold meetings for leaders, elders where we do sensitization on girls and boys who are agitators. During this time for holidays we engage standard 4-8-Form three girls,”she said.
West Pokot Reproduction health Coordinator Wilson Ngareng noted that there is need for enough resources thus allocate specific budgets for adolescents.
“Teenage pregnancies are high due to Cultural practices and residents have not embraced child spacing. During Covid- 19 period, everyone was indoors and children at home interacting in the community,” he said.