By Gatonye Gathura
Most teachers and even some students believe premarital sex, contraceptives, and abortions are a no go for school girls.
Interestingly, more female than male teachers are the most opposed to school girls engaging in such practices.
The general belief is that these acts are sinful, are against religion and culture and at best left alone until marriage.
“When they start using contraceptives this early, what will they do when they get married? To them, it is not a big deal to have many men. And it gives them problems in marriage,” says a secondary school female teacher in Kisumu.
In a recent assessment in Western Kenya, on what teachers think of contraceptives use and abortion among school girls, researchers say these were highly resisted.
This resistance, also recorded recently among health workers, is a drawback to last year’s global Women Deliver conference in Nairobi which claimed major successes in pushing for the sexual rights of adolescent girls and women.
One of the most contested issues at the global conference was the rights of youths and girls to comprehensive sex education and contraceptives.
“The Sustainable Development Goals cannot be achieved until women, girls and young people are able to control their bodies and their lives,” concluded the conference ran under the mantra: My Body, My Life, My World.
The Kisumu study involved 36 secondary school teachers and student peer counselors with a majority, 28, describing chastity and purity before marriage as highly valued feminine ideals.
Student peer counselors are a recent addition in some schools where an older student mentors the younger ones.
The team of researchers from the Kisumu Medical Education Trust (KMET), a local NGO, and Karolinska Institute, Sweden was exploring the attitudes of teachers on contraceptives and abortion among students.
Their findings published last month in BMC Public Health, concludes premarital sex, though quite prevalent in Kenya is highly frowned upon by both teachers and students.
Sex before marriage, most respondents said is unacceptable, and a distinct separation was made between girls who had sex before marriage and girls who waited.
About half of the respondents believed that a girl who has had an abortion might be a bad influence on other girls.
However many of the students’ mentors were unhappy with teachers who ridicule girls who had aborted.
“Some teachers, if they know about your story, will always want to use you as an example to the others” said a student mentor.
On contraceptives, a third of the respondents said a schoolgirl cannot decide for herself if to use birth control devices.
However, teachers said they were aware that some of the girls used contraceptives with the assistance and knowledge of their parents.
“Some parents opt to prevent further pregnancies by introducing these contraceptives to their young children” said a male teacher.
“I do not care what the teachers think or say, but I am not going to wait for my girls to bring children here,” said Amos Matheka of Pipeline Estate in Nairobi.
A father of three girls, one already with child says the others are on implants. “Telling them about abstaining is like bad gospel. I hope and pray God will protect them against infections,” said Matheka, a bus driver.
But it is not only teachers who frown against premarital sex. A recent study by Aga Khan University Hospital, Nairobi reported high discrimination of adolescent girls giving birth in public hospitals.
The varsity had assessed the kind of care delivering women received in public hospitals in Kisii and Kilifi counties.
They concluded that women of all ages experienced abusive care but younger females, especially adolescents, were more likely to report verbal and physical abuse.
“Some doctors are harsh because you’re a girl, during delivery they abuse you and tell you. … Young girl, when you were loitering looking for that pregnancy, were we there?” said a young girl.
Some adolescent women, the study says reported being slapped and disrespectfully interrogated about the father of the child during the labour process.
Apart from health workers being reluctant to help unmarried girls give birth, they are even more hostile when it comes to providing them with contraceptives or the HIV prevention pills.
The HIV prevention pill called pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP was launched by the Ministry of Health in 2017 targeting healthy people otherwise at highest risk of HIV infection.
Adolescent girls are listed among groups at highest risk of HIV infections alongside discordant couples, sex workers and drug injectors hence targeted for PrEP distribution.
But data collected by PrEP programmes shows health workers in Kenya are reluctant to give the pills to adolescent girls aged 15 and 17.
The data shows about half of health workers would rather tell sexually active adolescent girls to abstain from sex than give them PrEP.
More than a third, 34 per cent, of the health providers say adolescent girls should disclose PrEP use to their parents something largely opposed by civil groups.
The Kisumu study recommends the need for comprehensive sex education in Kenya and further training of teachers on adolescent sexuality, abortion and contraceptives.