When the President of Kenya announced the immediate closure of schools due to covid-19, this was the best move to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus in schools and the community. We were protecting our children from what the World Health Organization (WHO) announced on 11th march 2020 as a world pandemic.

The Government started implementing online learning, a plan which is not favorable for children who do not have access to internet or electricity. Consequently, some teenagers started looking for various ways to make themselves “busy”. “have you seen the teenage boys and girls who wake up at 6:00am in the name of exercising?” one social media user asked.  “This is a disaster in waiting,” he added.  Asking few parents in Kibera slum what they thought about the proposed opening of schools in January 2021, this is what they had to say: “I support that decision; in fact, it will be favorable to all the pregnant teenagers. They would probably have delivered by then”

Rose’s mum noticed one morning that her daughter had woken up later than usual. At first, she did not pay much attention to it. She instead went on with her usual business of roasting maize.  “When I came back in the evening, I found her asleep. I did not bother much because she had already made dinner. I ate and went to bed,” she recalls.  The following day, she decided to ask her daughter if she was sick. Her daughter said that she has a bad headache and stomach pains.  Rose’s mum went to the nearest chemist and bought her pain killers.

“I noticed, that I was pregnant when I missed my period at the end of April after asking my friend what could be the problem.  My friends advised me to visit the nearest hospital. At this time I did not tell my mother,” Rose narrates.  I feared her. My father is also upcountry because he was locked out of Nairobi.  On 7th May 2020, Rose’s mother decided to accompany her to the nearest hospital after she suspected that something was wrong with her daughter

“I am a mother and therefore I know when something isn’t right with my children. I looked at her that morning and suspected that she was pregnant. To prove this this, I decided to take her to the hospital myself.  The doctor tested her and my fears were confirmed,” Rose’s mother recalls.

Rose was three weeks pregnant.  It took her time to process and accept the situation. She decided not to go to work that day and instead she slept the whole day. “I had paid all her school fees for this year, knowing how difficult it is to pay school fees nowadays, I could not hold my tears. I confided in a friend who started narrating to me the number of young girls who have gotten pregnant at Rose’s age. I knew most them, but still I could not accept that my daughter was pregnant in such a short period.”

Rose recalls how her boyfriend accepted her pregnancy, but later he denied any involvement.  Most of my friends advised me to abort the baby. I could not do it because some of my friends knew I was pregnant. This, she thought, would bring shame to my family.  “My main problem right now is to look for someone to take care of the baby after delivery.”  For now, Rose’s mother has accepted to support her during this time.  She urges parents and guardians to take care of their children during the Covid-19 pandemic. “Parents should openly communicate with their children, have discussions on consequences of engaging in early sexual activities and ensure that they regularly check on them.”

Our responsibility as a society

Rose is only an example of many teenage girls who have become pregnant in the wake of Covid-19.  What should families, communities and the country do to ensure the reduction of teenage pregnancies now and in the future?

Communication and ensuring teenagers have knowledge on sex education:  Rose’s mother has never had a conversation with her daughter on the consequences of engaging in early sex.  This is because she is busy with work and some parents are not equipped with the right skills and information to start the conversation with their children. Majority of young people get this information mainly from their peers. The controversial Reproductive Health Bill 2020 indicates that the national government shall collaborate with county governments to ensure that adolescents have access to adolescent friendly reproductive health services. These services include: Mentorship programs, spiritual and moral guidelines and sharing the consequences of unsafe abortion among others. Teachers should also be taken for periodic capacity building on guidance and counselling to keep up with the current trends.

Organizing teenage friendly community programs:  Most teenage programs at school and community levels are not friendly. Teenage friendly community programmes includes designing activities that are geared towards ensuring the teenager are positively influenced. The activities should give the teenagers opportunities explore their skills and talents to better themselves and the society.  Organizing such programs needs the inclusion of various professionals and stakeholders in the community.

Strengthen the judicial system: In March 2020, a high court judge recommended that the age of sexual consent should be reduced to 16.  “Decisions have been made by various judicial officers that depart from the law. In Criminal Appeal, No 81 of 2013 J Y v Republic [2015] eKLR and in Criminal Appeal No 32 of 2013 James Lekichap v Republic [2015] eKLR the accused were convicted for the defilement of minors aged 17 and 13 respectively.”

The convictions were overturned because one voluntarily moved in with the accused person and the other, according to the judge, seemed to have enjoyed the sexual act. Notably, the case that has stirred up the debate on the proposed reduction on the age of sexual consent is Criminal Appeal No 102 of 2016 Eliud Waweru Wambui Vs R [2019] eklr delivered on the 22nd March 2019. It is important to note that the age of majority in Kenya is 18 years. campaign against the lowering of the age of sexual consent from 18 years to 16 years” Read a policy brief statement by COVAW, HIFADHI HUB AFRICA and CRAWN TRUST.

A child is anyone aged 17 years and below, therefore reducing the sexual consent age to 16 will put many children at risk of dropping out of school. It is therefore prudent that the judicial systems ensure that justice is served to anyone who is violating the right of children.