Motherhood is exciting and a moment of pride. For an adolescent girl, it can be a dream crushing moment. In Kenya, 18% of adolescent girls of 15-19 years have begun childbearing, often having their dreams for education curtailed.
Every year, about 13,000 Kenyan girls drop out of school due to accidental pregnancy and currently 1 in 4 adolescent married girls aged 15-19 have an unmet need for family planning. Kenya has committed to addressing adolescent sexual and reproductive health by signing up to several international and regional human rights treaties and declarations including the National Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Policy of 2015.
Kenya’s population is largely young. 42% of country’s population is under 15 years of age. 10.5 million adolescents, aged 10-19, make up 22.5% of the country’s population while 36% of girls and 41% of boys aged 15 to 19 years are sexually active.
Nationally, there is a gap in active and consistent national communication to create awareness and demand for family planning among 15–24 year olds. Health information publicity from service providers often communicates that family planning is only for 'mothers' and not suitable for those without children.
Other barriers to adolescents accessing family planning have been associated with:
- Perceived and actual side effects of contraceptive methods
- Physical and financial access to family planning commodities
- Shame is also a significant factor preventing use of family planning particularly for unmarried youth
Adolescent girls have unique health and development needs, yet they are faced enormous challenges of early sexual debut, unplanned pregnancy, and higher number of births. 2015 WHO AA-HA! Guidance states that maternal conditions were one of the top five leading causes of death worldwide for adolescent females aged 10-19. Kenya could see more maternal deaths if trends of teenage pregnancies are not checked and curbed.
This year, the Population Reference Bureau (PRB) published a Youth Family Planning Policy Scorecard that rated Kenya among the countries with comprehensive adolescent sexual and reproductive health policy that supports youth access to a full spectrum of family planning methods. However, the report notes need for improvements on streamlining of the seven elements of adolescent friendly services to increase access and uptake of contraception among adolescents in Kenya.
The seven elements are:
- Training and supporting providers to offer non-judgmental services to adolescents
- Enforcing confidentiality and privacy; provision of wide range of contraceptive methods
- Provision of free or subsidised services
- Ensuring legal rights, policies, and guidelines that respect, protect, and fulfill adolescents’ human rights to contraceptive information, products, and services regardless of age, sex, marital status, or parity
- Addressing norms and fostering support among communities and parents for adolescents to access contraceptive information and services; and addressing gender norms.
Adolescent girls’ and women’s right to access voluntary, affordable, available, high quality and effective modern contraceptive services and information of their choice are internationally recognised as a fundamental human right. During this year’s World Population day, key note speakers from national government and heads of UNFPA and DFID in Kenya committed to support focus on increasing access to family planning to adolescents.
Kenya’s Demographic Dividend Roadmap recognises investing in adolescents would increase social and human capital resulting in a healthier, better skilled, and educated future workforce which will assist the country in realising its demographic dividend.
Let’s ensure that motherhood is exciting and a moment of pride for all women, and that no more dreams are crushed. It’s time that we take action for Kenya’s youth.