In March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic following its outbreak in various countries including Kenya. The pandemic continues to pose threats to access to youth-friendly health services.
These include inadequate access to information on Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) as the government currently prioritizes COVID-19 response over other essential health care services.
The COVID-19 pandemic has adverse and negative effects on continuity of care on sexual reproductive health service and information delivery across the counties.
Counties like Nairobi have been hit hard by the pandemic with increasing numbers being reported daily. Adolescent and young people have reportedly been facing several challenges on sexual gender-based violence, access to contraceptives, access to mental health services, unintended pregnancy, and the dilemma of curfew and cessation of movement.
Access to quality education for girls in Kenya has been a concern especially for girls in marginalized areas. While schools in these areas are poorly equipped and understaffed to meet the physical, intellectual and emotional needs of girls, on the one hand, violence against girls in and out of schools, widespread harmful cultural practices and beliefs are equally a hindrance.
The school re-entry policy campaign aims at encouraging students who dropped out of schools to return to schools after giving birth especially now when we expect so many “COVID-19 babies”!!
In Africa, the main causes of teenage pregnancy include sexual exploitation and abuse, poverty, lack of information about sexuality and reproduction, and lack of access to services such as family planning and modern contraception. In Kenya, every individual has a right to education as per the Constitution of Kenya 2010. The re-entry policy to help young mothers return to schools came into effect in 1994.
In the recent Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examinations release at Mtihani House, Education CS George Magoha announced that 652 candidates sat the national exam in hospitals after delivery. This is an increase from 282 in 2019. Most of these cases are from defilement and rape as most of these candidates are under the age of 18 years.
Adolescent and teenage pregnant girls should not be forced to sit in for their exams while still in a state of trauma because of the sexual violence that they might have undergone.
Unexpected pregnancy changes the trajectory of a girl’s life and leaves a girl with long-lasting physical, socio-economic and psychological ramifications. These high rates of unplanned pregnancies can be reduced by equipping our children with age-appropriate and need-appropriate sexual and reproductive health education, better known as Comprehensive Sexuality Education.
According to the Constitution and the National Guidelines on Management of Sexual Violence in Kenya, termination of pregnancy and post-abortion care in the event of pregnancy from defilement and rape is a key right of a survivor of sexual violence.
The government jointly through the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education should strengthen, domesticate, implement and resource “The Return to school policy” for adolescent and teenage pregnant girls to be allowed after delivery or after access to vital reproductive health services to go back or be given support to gain admission into another primary or secondary school of her choice she feels there are issues of stigma and discrimination.
Alvin Mwangi is a Sexual Reproductive health and rights advocate,
Network of Adolescents and Youth of Africa (NAYA Kenya)