Sheila Chepkoech, 17, sat for her 2019 Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education at Kapkeben Secondary School in Uasin Gishu, balancing between the exam schedule and motherhood.

Sheila says she had no knowledge about how to avoid unintended pregnancy. “I never heard of protection measures since childhood l(sic). Now I know better. I use an implant. I have no regrets.  My baby is fine. I am doing fine,” said Sheila. 

Fortunately for Chepkoech, her father, Philip Barno, embraced and offered her support. Like many communities in Kenya, teenage pregnancy is frowned upon in Sheila’s community. 

“I chose to support her to continue with education after I realised where we had gone wrong,” he says, indicating that they were hostile to her after she informed them of the pregnancy.

These two are part of statistics that demographers and health experts describe as alarming, something they blame on negative cultural norms, poverty levels, and little knowledge.

Future in jeopardy

The World Health Organisation places teen pregnancy as one of the major contributors to maternal and child mortality and to intergenerational cycles of ill-health and poverty.

Complications arising from pregnancy and childbirth are leading causes of death of teenagers aged 15-19, who face higher risks of eclampsia, puerperal (postpartum) endometritis, and systemic infections. They also have high emotional, psychological and social needs compared to older women.

In terms of childbearing, adolescent girls face more risks including babies born with low birth weight, preterm delivery, and severe neonatal conditions.

Among communities in the North Rift in Kenya, there was a traditional way of addressing sexuality. “Grandparents, older siblings, uncles and aunties used to talk to adolescents and the youth about sexuality. But the system has collapsed. Sex is not discussed between young people and the elderly or if it is discussed, it is usually in hushed tones,” explains John Anampiu, the National Council for Population and Development (NCPD) North Rift Regional Coordinator. 

Domestic investments to provide youth-friendly services

In a commentary published in Kenya’s widest circulating newspaper, Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevoelkerung (DSW) Kenya’s Country Director Ms. Evelyn Samba made a case for investments in youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health and family planning services.  14 million Kenyans, or 30 percent of the population, are 10-24 years old like Sheila Chepkoech. 

“In order to secure access to contraceptives for the youth, public health facilities need to be equipped to provide youth-friendly services. Increasing the number of facilities offering such services requires funding. However, external funding for these programmes is fast dwindling. Kenya’s classification to a lower-middle-income country in 2014 means that international development assistance for it is reducing. Secondly, reinstatement of the Mexico City policy has affected external funding inflow from the United States, one of Kenya’s biggest sources,” Ms. Samba wrote. 

It is because of these reasons that Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevoelkerung (DSW) is implementing a three-year initiative (2019 – 2021), advocating for more and better funds for family planning from the national government and 11 county governments. DSW is also working with civil society organisations and youth-led organisations towards improved national and county family planning policies in Kenya. The 11 counties are West Pokot, Kilifi, Laikipia, Meru, Mombasa, Nakuru,Nyandarua, Nandi, Bungoma, Trans Nzoia and Uasin Gishu.

Parts of the content of this story was originally published in ‘The People Daily’, a newspaper in Kenya for a feature story written by a journalist trained and supported by DSW to write better stories on sexual and reproductive health and family planning.