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Kenya’s lock down period sees increases in early marriage and teenage pregnancy rates

Last month, we heard the devastating news that due to COVID-19, schools in Kenya will remain closed until January 2021. As families around the world already know, school closures mean increased social isolation, pressure on parents and boredom for children. But for the vulnerable communities we work with, it can mean lack of access to regular meals and, for many girls, it reduces their likelihood of ever returning to receive the education they deserve. 

“Habits form quickly”, our Country Manager, Terri Anderson explains. “Girls are put to work in the home, caring for their siblings and doing chores, freeing their mothers up to go and find work in the fields. When parents realise the opportunity to increase their earning capacity, they’re less likely to send their girls back to school.” 

Unfortunately, this isn’t the only reason that girls won’t return to school after the pandemic. The “Living Under Lockdown” report by Plan International has leveraged key indicators from previous health crises to highlight the risks millions of young girls are facing around the world. In Sierra Leone there was a 65% increase in teenage pregnancy due to girls being out of school during the Ebola crisis.

Sadly, the Kenyan Government’s latest health survey data already shows the increase occurring during this year’s COVID-19 pandemic, with nearly 4000 teenage pregnancies being registered in just one of 47 counties in the last 5 months. About 200 of these are girls aged 14 and below, and the County Children Officer, Salome Muthama said the reported pregnancy cases among school girls are a much less than the actual numbers.

What’s more, the World Health Organisation’s research indicates that pregnancy and childbirth complications are the leading cause of death among girls aged 15–19 globally. A 2017 Kenyan study into maternal deaths revealed that 9% of women who died in the hospital were teenagers. According to Plan International, of pregnant teenagers who survive childbirth in Kenya, nearly 98% drop out of school.

At So They Can, our Kenyan teams are working tirelessly to protect, educate and empower girls in the communities we work with. We’ve partnered with community health clinics and employ a number of full-time social workers. We are also running our Champions of Change program to engage and empower local leaders to spread the word and educate their communities on the risks of early marriage, female genital cutting and teenage pregnancy, as well as the importance of educating girls. 

Our at home learning packs are a core part of our strategy to keep our students learning through the pandemic, and so far we have distributed thousands of packs to children in Kenya. Longer term, we are looking to open up access to our extensive library at Aberdare Ranges Primary School so that we can reduce idleness and give students something to do.

Most recently, we are working towards opening up our Miti Mingi Village and East Pokot schools to run drop-in workshops for girls, educating them on the issues relating to girls’ health and wellbeing. These workshops also give them an opportunity for safe haven if any of them are experiencing predatory behaviour from male family members or community members. 

“All of this work is essential to us ensuring that we’re maintaining girls education through the pandemic and beyond,” our CEO, Cass Treadwell adds. “We couldn’t do it without the generosity of our donors, and we’re so grateful for their ongoing support through these difficult times.”

You can keep track of our response to the COVID-19 crisis in Kenya and Tanzania by following us on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn

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