The uprise of teenage pregnancy amidst the global pandemic in Kenya
Written By Najima Bawa, Program Development & Quality Coordinator, 19th June 2020
Amid a cholera outbreak in various parts of the country, Kenya reported its first case of COVID-19 on March 12th 2020, and, as of June 15th, 3,727 cases had been confirmed and 104 deaths reported(1). Despite Kenya’s proactive response to the pandemic, about 85% of the confirmed cases are local transmissions. Both Mombasa and Nairobi counties have the highest prevalence rates at 90.9 and 38.5 per 100,000 populations, respectively, when compared to the national rate of 7.8 per 100,000(1). In response to the pandemic, Kenya quickly deployed a partial lockdown with a night curfew from 9 pm to 4am and imposed a travel ban to curtail the virus’s transmission. The results of this lockdown have affected people’s jobs and livelihoods of those, especially in marginalized and vulnerable populations. With a majority of a society that depends on daily wages to make ends meet, the lockdown has left families confined to their homes, food-insecure, and chronically stressed over this never-ending pandemic. Unfortunately, this creates a perfect storm, leaving vulnerable young girls in their households subjected to sexual-based violence and early childhood pregnancy.
In recent reports, the government’s lockdown measures to limit the spread of the virus has also led to a saddening rise in teenage pregnancies in Machakos over five months (2). “Machakos County Children Officer, Salome Muthama stated to Africa News reporter “During this coronavirus pandemic we do have 4000 impregnated girls. These are so many innocent girls, and she added that about 200 of these girls are aged 14 years and below”(2). According to UNICEF 2020 report, many countries are reporting a surge in cases of domestic and sexual violence, also known as gender-based violence (GBV), as well as violence against children. Kenya follows this trend: a third of crimes reported since COVID-19 arrived were related to sexual violence. (3)
So let me paint you this picture. There are two ongoing crises in Kenya as you read this. There’s the war against this invisible virus, and the war against the exploitation of young girl bodies and their futures. Adolescent (defined as 13–24 years old by WHO) pregnancy and childbearing are common in Kenya with the adolescent birth rate at 96 per 1,000 women, and 1 in every 5 adolescent girls has either had a live birth, or is pregnant with her first child according to UNFPA reports (4). So prior to COVID-19 teenage pregnancy had been an ongoing issue being tackled by the government, and international NGOs. The issue is, COVID-19 has exacerbated pre-existing gender inequities leading to sexual based violence and teenage pregnancy since its onset.
School closures and loss of support from peers and teachers, and access to sexual and reproductive health and rights information through life skills education has left these girls in vulnerable states. According to Plan’s International Living Under Lockdown report, they highlighted that during the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone there was a 65% increase in teenage pregnancy due to girls being out of school during the Ebola crisis and girls were often forced into risky behavior in order to put food on the table ( 5).
In light of the pandemic as health facilities are pushed to their limits it is critical Kenya continues to provide psychosocial support, strengthen its referral pathways and increase reproductive health services and commodities to avoid reversing the country’s progress towards ending teenage pregnancy.
- Kenya Situation Report 2020 Accessed.June 17,2020https://reliefweb.int/report/kenya/kenya-situation-report-17-june-2020
- Close to 4,000 school girls impregnated in Kenya during COVID-19. Accessed June 17, 2020.https://www.africanews.com/2020/06/17/close-to-4000-school-girls-impregnated-in-kenya-during-covid-19-lockdown//
- UNICEF.Fighting the Shadow Pandemic.Accessed June 17, 2020. https://www.unicef.org/kenya/stories/Fighting-the-shadow-pandemic
- UNFPA. Adolescent pregnancy.Accessed June 17, 2020.https://www.unfpa.org/adolescent-pregnancy
- Girls and COVID-19 .Accessed June 17, 2020 https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/living_under_lockdown-final-2.pdf