Proposed legislation comes as a relief to teenage mothers
In the evening many people want to go back home and relax after a daylong work. But this is not case for 15 year- old Beatrice Mwangola (not her real name) as she prepares for an evening shift in a makeshift hotel at Kibaoni, next to Pwani University in Kilifi County.
Unlike her age mates who would be looking forward to completing their school assignments and retire to bed, Mwangola leaves her elder sister’s home to the nearby busy centre to earn a living that will supplement their income.
Having dropped out of school two years ago in class seven due to early pregnancy, her vision to become a teacher was shattered. Due to fear of discrimination, she dropped out of school. She is now left with the sole responsibility of assisting her widowed and elder sister who generously agreed to take care of her two year old baby but at a cost.
She reports to her busy work station at six o’clock in the evening and spends the whole night cooking, serving and washing utensils until 5.00 am when she takes a break. For all her labour, she is compensated at Kshs 180 per day.
“It is very little money but I have no choice but to keep the job to assist my child or else I will be kicked out of my sister’s house because she cannot afford to fend for all of us,” says Mwangola.
According to Mwangola, life is tough in the night especially for young women like herself considering the calibre of clients that they serve. She confesses that what has kept her working for that last one year is the commitment and focus she has put in her work.
“With my meagre income, I have been able to supplement our income but most importantly, I have managed to enrol to a nearby tailoring school which I attend during the day for three hours after I have rested,” she adds.
Most of the young girls who have been working here with me have to contend with sexual violations and harassment from the young men. She considers herself lucky to have worked for this long as her friends are nursing babies at home.
Mwangola is a representation of so many teenage mothers in Kilifi County, and by extension across Kenya. Many of these girls aspirations in life have been shattered after they dropped out of school, thereby increasing their vulnerability in society.
According to the Kenya Demographic Health Survey Report (KDHS 2014), 19 percent of girls in Kilifi County aged 15-19 have had a live birth, while three per cent are pregnant with their first child. Nationally, approximately one in every five teenage girls between the ages of 15-19 have begun child bearing.
A report by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) notes that teenage pregnancy is a scenario that replicates itself every day in developing countries, where it is estimated that 20,000 girls under the age of 18 years give birth, which amounts to 7.3 million births a year. And if all pregnancies are included, the number of adolescent pregnancies is much higher.
As many countries work towards prevention of adolescent pregnancy, efforts often focus on changing the behaviour of girls rather than addressing the underlying drivers of adolescent pregnancy. An innovative way of assisting teenage girls to realise their dreams is by ensuring they are able to continue with their education.
The Care and Protection of Child Bill 2016, sponsored by Nominated Senator Elizabeth Ongoro, might provide a solution to this challenge. The Bill is designed to keep pregnant girls in school by providing a legal framework to facilitate a smooth transition for the parent student.
The Bill provides for the learner’s right to education and to be given adequate support to realise their dreams. It recognises the right of every girl to remain in school and receive the necessary support to continue with their education and to participate during pregnancies or as a parent student.
Most importantly, the Bill also places responsibility on county government to establish and maintain care centres to take care of the teenagers’ children of not more than three years of age. The cares centres should be established in a place that is within the vicinity of an institution of basic education in order to ensure access to such facilities by a child parent.
With such a Bill in place and fully established, many teenagers such as Mwangola will be relieved of their responsibilities and focus on their educations which will ultimately improve their lives and relieve their from the vicious cycle of poverty.