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Kenya ought to recommit to ESA obligations on adolescent pregnancies

By Alvin Mwangi

According to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (2014), 18% of adolescent girls and women aged 15 -19 years are already mothers or pregnant with their first child.

In Africa, the main causes of teenage pregnancy include sexual exploitation and abuse, poverty, lack of information about sexuality and reproduction, and lack of access to services such as family planning and modern contraception.

In Kenya, every individual has a right to education as per the Constitution of Kenya, 2010. The re-entry policy to help young mothers return to schools came into law in 1994.

Access to quality access to reproductive health education for girls in Kenya has been a concern especially for girls in marginalized areas.  While schools in these areas are poorly equipped and understaffed to meet the physical, intellectual and emotional needs of girls, on the one hand, violence against girls in and out of schools, widespread harmful cultural practices, and beliefs are equally a hindrance.

The Sustainable Development Goals, 3 and 5 recognize Sexual reproductive health and Rights (SRHR) as a key strategy to promoting health and wellbeing, and gender equality.

In particular, SDG 3 sets out to reduce global maternal mortality (SDG3.1) and ensure universal access to SRH services (SDG3.7); whilst SDG 5 promotes universal access to SRHR (SDG5.6), the elimination of harmful practices, such as child, early, and forced marriage and female genital mutilation (SDG5.3) and advocates for policies and enforceable legislation that promote gender equality (SDG5.C).

Within East and Southern Africa, these rights are contained in several regional agreements, including more recently, the 2013 Ministerial Commitment to comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) and sexual reproductive health (SRH) services for adolescents and young people in ESA.

In December 2013, Ministers of Education and Health from 20 east and southern African (ESA) countries came together to endorse and affirm their commitment to better health outcomes for adolescents and young people in the region.

This was a culmination of efforts led by UNESCO, UNFPA, UNAIDS, and Regional Economic Communities (RECs) in the region towards charting the path to economic and social wellbeing for young people, through securing their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

In their agreement, now commonly known as the ESA Commitment, the Ministers pledged to increase coverage of comprehensive sexuality education, increase access to sexual reproductive health services, reduce unplanned and unintended pregnancies, and eliminate child marriages and gender-based violence among young people in the region by 2020.

Central to the Commitment are time-bound targets that guide national efforts, and the agreement to scale up comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) and sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services for adolescents and young people in the region.

By the end of 2020, the ESA Commitments has the following targets amongst others “Increase to 95% the number of adolescents and young people, aged 10-24, who demonstrate comprehensive HIV prevention knowledge levels; Reduce early and unintended pregnancies among young people by 75%; Eliminating gender-based violence; Eliminate child marriage; Increase the number of all school and teacher training institutions that provide CSE to 75%”

Kenya being one of the signatories to the ESA Commitments has made strides in the targets but a lot more is needed to ensure that all the adolescents and young people in all their diversities are able to live free from any social and health challenges that are preventable.

In order to prevent girls from dropping out of school because of pregnancy, the Convention on the Rights of a Child (CRC) recommends measures to ensure that pregnant teenagers are given the chance to complete their education by not excluding them and by developing special programs.

The government jointly through the Ministry of Health and Education should re-commit to the ESA Commitments and ensure that we fully achieve the set targets for teenage mothers to be allowed after delivery to go back or be given support to gain admission into another secondary school of her choice she feels there are issues of stigma and discrimination.

Alvin Mwangi is a Nairobi-based sexual reproductive health and rights expert

Twitter: @alvinmwangi254

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