Written by Grace Ananda- FAWE Kenya.
Access to quality education for girls in Kenya has been a concern. The problem is even more pronounced among girls from marginalized areas. While schools in these areas are poorly equipped and under staffed 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 re-entry policy campaign aims at encouraging students who dropped out of schools to return to schools after giving birth.
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 an education (Constitution of Kenya, 2010). The re-entry policy to help young mothers return to schools came into law in 1994. According to the Kenya 2009 Demographic Health Survey (2015), 18% of girls have experienced a pregnancy by the age of 18 years, making it one of the major causes for teenage girls dropping out of school. In order to prevent girls dropping out of school because of pregnancy, the Convention on the Rights of a Child (CRC) recommends measures to ensure that pregnant teenagers are given the chance to complete their education by not excluding them and by developing special programmes (Mieke, 2006). Consequently, The Education and Training Sector Gender Policy 2015-MoE, which is a follow up of gender policy 2007 and 2003 (2003 first) policy stating that re-admission of girls who become pregnant while in school is one of the on-going initiatives to address gender disparities in education in Kenya.
The World Bank, working with governments and other civil societies including the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative, is committed to supporting interventions to address gender equality. When girls and young women are given equal and fair chance to learn, proper awareness, they lead healthy, productive lives so they can positively contribute to their families, communities, and countries. Being pregnant and having a child are major life events. For an adolescent girl (aged 10–19 years old), experiencing these events while still at school often means facing harsh social sanctions and difficult choices that have life-long consequences. It could mean expulsion from home and school; being shamed and stigmatized by family, community members and peers; increased vulnerability to violence and abuse, that often leads to greater poverty and economic hardship. The right to health, education, and dignity and gender equality are at the heart of this issue.
How Can We End Teenage Pregnancy?
Early and unintended pregnancy put at risk educational attainment for girls and for this reason the education sector has a constitutional obligation to prevent it by providing knowledge, information and skills; and ensuring that pregnant/teenage girls and adolescent mothers keep their right and are given another opportunity to continue with their education. Girls and boys should be educated human sexuality (age appropriate) – for this is an instrument to prevent adolescent pregnancy and a means towards better life chances. In order to address this issue there is need to work across all sectors and at all levels by understanding the complex drivers behind the issue and its various (practice in different) contexts.
My take; –
1. Strengthening, implementing and resourcing laws and policies which prevent child marriage is an important step towards recognizing and upholding girls’ rights;
2. For change to be truly effective and transformative, governments must show strong political leadership by making the issue of national importance and providing adequate financial resourcing across ministries to tackle the issue, holistically;
3. The government is urged to adopt positive re-entry policies and expedite regulations that facilitate teenage girls and young mothers of school-going age a systemic return to school;
4. Ensure that pregnant and married students who wish to continue their education can do so in an environment free from stigma and discrimination, including by allowing female students to choose an alternative school, and monitor schools’ compliance;
5. Provide information access to parents, guardians, and community leaders about the harmful physical, educational, and psychological effects of adolescent pregnancy and the importance of pregnant girls and young mother continuing with school;
6. Schools should improve monitoring and data collection on girls who drop out of school due to pregnancy or marriage by developing and implement mechanisms to follow up on and keep track of girls who drop out of school due to pregnancy or marriage, with the aim of initiating their return to school policy.
7. Government should revisit their social protection policy to accommodate teen mothers as a special group.