It’s not easy to be a young person living in Kenya today. Compared with adults, adolescents are at higher risk of illness and even death from pregnancy related complications, HIV infection, or other sexually transmitted infections. In addition, unintended pregnancy is often the main cause for girls leaving formal education, the consequences of which can take a toll on their families, community, and the future development of Kenya.
The underlying causes for adolescent pregnancy and resulting school dropout are complex and include issues such as parent-child communication, gender inequity, a lack of services and high-quality comprehensive sexuality education for young adolescents (aged 10-14 years). With the majority of Kenya’s population under 25 years, and two out of every five people under the age of 15, there is an urgent need for change.
Young Adolescents Project
While much has been done to improve access to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) information, services and supplies among older adolescents in Kenya, there is a commonly held belief that young girls and boys under the age of 15 are ‘too young’ to be in need of SRHR. To address this misconception, DSW Kenya, in close partnership with Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals, have implemented the “Young Adolescents Project” (YAP) – a three year project aiming at improving SRHR among young adolescents at nine primary schools in Kilifi County, a coastal region in Kenya. This initiative follows from the amazing successes of the initial YAP project implemented in three districts in Uganda between 2009 and 2012. That project was successful in creating an environment that enabled effective communication between young adolescents and key adults, particularly parents, and teachers, resulting in improved communication in issues relating to sexual health and, most prominently, a significant decrease in school drop-out rates among young girls.
Open and frank discussions
These experiences have now been applied within the new project region in Kenya. A large number of stakeholders, including community members, young adolescents, teachers, parents, representatives from the Ministry of Education, have already been reached and mobilised. This has led to open and frank discussions regarding many of the issues facing 10-14 year olds living in Kenya today, such as school dropout among young girls, sexual violence, unintended pregnancy, and early sexual activity. This has also been complimented by thoughtful interventions like the distribution of sanitary pads to girls via the YAP clubs in the nine target schools.
Listen to young people
By listening to the voices of young adolescents and building ties with them and the wide range of actors that influence their lives, the community in Kilifi is investing in the current generation and reinforcing positive behaviours earlier rather than trying to change negative behaviours in later adolescence. Not only do these changes have the potential to change the fortunes of young people to live a self-determined future, but they have positive implications for their wider community, and their country as a whole.
Renate Baehr is the Executive Director of DSW
More information on DSW’s Young Adolescent Project: www.dsw.org/projects/yap.html