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Would you give contraceptives to your teenage children?

By Gardy Chacha | Sunday, Mar 19th 2017 at 10:30

The life Immaculate Amita wanted for herself spelt freedom. In her dreams, she would grow into a fierce and independent woman who would be in charge of her life devoid of marriage and motherhood commitments.

She was 12, and in Standard Seven when a boy showed interest in her. The young adolescent was flattered.

"It felt nice to be wanted. That a boy had expressed so much interest in me made me feel beautiful. Like the other girls who had boyfriends. It boosted my confidence, and I walked with a spring in my step. I became his girlfriend and he my boyfriend," Immaculate says.

That meant that she could – through covert trysts – meet up with the boy for carnal pleasures. "It was not easy to just say no. Plus, it is not like the boy was trying to manipulate me; he was just as innocent as I was," Immaculate, now 22, says.

Immaculate is from Port Victoria in Budalangi.

In a 2015 interview, Anne Amimo, then a Busia county AIDS and STI coordinator, said that the area had the highest percentage of early sex induction among the Kenyan youth.

"I would blame the parents because they don't seem to be doing their best to keep these teenagers from engaging in sex," Anne said.

At Form Three, Immaculate fell pregnant with twins. This was in spite of knowledge on condom use – to protect against unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

"I knew I could get pregnant but I wished that possibility away," Immaculate says. "I was also under the impression that it was upon him (the boy) to carry around a condom."

A transition study – conducted in Mombasa – by National Aids and STI control program (NASCOP) has found that half of the girls who were interviewed were younger than 15 when they first had sex.

The study (yet to be officially released) also found that condom use at first sexual encounter was rare and 11 per cent of respondents had a first sex partner who was older by at least 10 years.

Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) 2014 also found that 3.2 per cent of girls in Kenya will have begun childbearing by age 15. That proportion increases to 8 per cent, 15 per cent and 25.9 per cent by ages 16, 17, and 18 respectively.

In other words, there is no denying that a great section of teenagers, below 18, are sexually active.

Joyce Gakuria, 27, reflects through her high school days and comes to the conclusion that perhaps the discussion about adolescence and sex should be reviewed.

While she barely managed to finish high school without engaging in sex, Joyce had her first sexual encounter and fell pregnant on her last day of school.

"My best friend aborted twice: in form three and form four. Two other girls in my class also aborted. The weird thing is that we had been taught about sex and contraception," Joyce points out.

Lessons on sexuality and contraception may be objective, Joyce says, but upholding the recommended standards is easier said than done.

The Kenya AIDS Response Progressive Report, launched in October 2016 by National AIDS Control Council (NACC), showed that HIV infections among youth aged between 10 and 24 increased from 21 per cent in 2013 to 51 per cent in 2015.

According to the report, an average of 97 young people get infected daily.

Other statistics with NACC show that 2,398 adolescents between 10 and 14 years, and 2,531 youths aged between 15 and 19 years died in 2013 from AIDS related causes.

The council further estimates that 435,225 adolescents aged between 10 and 19 are HIV positive, while another 119,899 haven't yet been identified as carrying the virus.

"Many Kenyan parents still abide by old methods of dealing with adolescents and their sexuality," Roseline Kigen, a parenting expert, and a mother of three girls, states.

Many, Roseline observes, are not informed on how to handle contraceptives as a topic with their teenagers.

"The best way to deal with teenage sexuality is by being honest; telling your child the truth and explaining repercussions of every decision and choice they make," Roseline says.

Being strict, she adds, is not tantamount to proper parenting. Policing your teenager – stoking them isn't efective.

"Even if you tried, you will quickly discover that it is not possible to police your teenager every minute of their life."

The Reproductive Health Care Bill of 2014, sponsored at the Senate floor by nominated senator Judith Sijeny, led to an uproar, with many conservatives rallying against it citing that the bill allowed adolescents as young as 10 to access contraception.

The Kenya National Association of Parents, through secretary general Musau Ndunda, made it clear that they were opposed to the legislation, pointing out that a child aged 10 cannot be exposed to 'very dangerous information (on sex and sexuality)'. "It is very early," he is quoted saying.

"The bill was meant to address reproductive health rights for all – especially for adolescents. It is adolescents who are abusing contraceptives; it is their lives getting destroyed through back-alley abortion; it is their lives that get curtailed," Sijeny told Sunday.

In a 2015 interview, Resla Olumbe, then a deputy head teacher at Port Mixed primary School in Port Victoria, told Standard that she loses at least five girls every term to pregnancy and early marriages. She blamed parents' absence from their children's lives.

"Education on matters of sex begins from class five in the curriculum. Beside that, we have guidance and counselling services in school. And we have churches for spiritual development. However, we still lose these children to pregnancy," Resla said.

In many parents' minds, Roseline notes, it is ideal to raise a teenager in purity. Nearly every parent wishes that their teenager will wait until the wedding night.

Reality is however not as simple.

In 2012, Kenya Medical Association (KMA) estimated that 465,000 Kenyan women undergo abortions each year. This included a large number of girls younger than 18 years.

"Parents will always have good intentions for their teenagers. What they don't have is the right skills to employ in keeping their teenagers safe from the dangers of early sex," Roseline laments.

She explains: "The government, by formulating health laws, has an agenda – lowering the number of teenage pregnancies and hence reducing costs spent on healthcare. It is time parents asked themselves what their agenda is with their teenager."

Roseline does not agree with blanket advice – to allow or not to allow teenagers to use contraception – for all.

However, she advises that every parent with a teenager ought to look at their child's development at a deeper level and make sound judgement.

How have you approached the topic of contraception with your teenager(s)?

Esther Muthini

Mother to a 21 year-old-girl and two young boys

When my daughter was yet to be of legal age, I made it very clear that she had no business using contraceptives or engaging in sex. This is because, according to the law, she is a minor who cannot consent to sex.

However, we cultivated honesty between us: she told me everything that was going on with her. I was also very honest with her about sexuality. I explained to her what it means – as well as the repercussions of sexual activity.

When she turned 18, I told her that the best 'sex' choice she could make would be to stay chaste until her wedding night. But I was also real with her; life does not always go as we had wished or planned. I told her that if she could not keep off sex, then the least she could so is make sure that she understands what she is doing and why she is doing it.

I told her to make sure that her partner has been tested and is healthy. She also has to insist on using protection. We have addressed contraception as a topic. I am against hormonal contraception for a girl who wants children in future.

Anne Muiruri, a businesswoman

Mother of 2 teenage boys, one 20 and the other 15

I have a culture of honesty between my sons and I. Usually, I broach the topic and then we discuss at length. We have talked about sex and sexuality. I have always let them know of the real consequences of having sex at their age.

They know that sex leads to pregnancy. They know it leads to infections. We are a Christian family and so I insist on Christian standards.

However, since I am not with them everywhere they go, to know what they are doing and with whom, I have also educated them that in the event that they can't avoid sexual relations then they have to test for STIs concurrently with their would-be-partners.

I have also told them that if any of them ever makes a girl pregnant I will make sure that they stay responsible through fatherhood.

Simon Mwangi, a pastor

Father of five: four daughters and a son

I lost my wife seven years ago. I was automatically forced to talk to my daughters about sexuality and coming of age. Whenever they have felt uncomfortable to share with me anything, I allowed them to talk to people I trust– like their aunties.

In this age of the internet and too much media exposure you can never bury your head in the sand and live in denial as a parent. As a pastor, I focus on instilling my children with values. Values are far way important than laws. The reason is because nowhere in the world has legislation prevented crimes from happening.

When I talk to my children about sex and sexuality, I spend time on the positives and not the negatives. I want them to know that it is God who created sex and he had a purpose for it.

Putting a high wall around home cannot block them from sexual sin. That is why I impart them with biblical values – so that even when they find themselves out there alone they will make the right choices.

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