Adolescents Need More Protection Than We Think

Perhaps its shame, or Kenyans are just afraid to wake up and face reality in the eye. Whatever the case, the sexual and reproductive health of adolescents in Kenya is standing weak under the glaring heat of ignorance, hyprocity and idealism. The statistics are stark. Today, nearly 18 percent of adolescent girls between the ages of 15 and 19 years are mothers. 98 percent of women ages 15 to 49 are experiencing Female Genital Mutilation/Circumcision in the North Eastern region. AIDS remains the leading cause of death and morbildity among adolescents and young people in Kenya. Enough said.

I love folklore! While growing up, my father used to speak of a popular folklore about a young chick (bird) that made it’s way out of a snake’s stomach. The short version of this tale is that the young chick held her breath and waited for the snake to sleep. The chick had noted that the snake’s muscles would rest when the he slept and she beaked her way through the mouth and was careful not poke the walls lest the snake wakes up. Carefully and quietly she was out through the snakes mouth… without even the snake realizing!

I remember my first encounter with something close to a snake; at least from where I was standing. I was only 12 years old then- an adolescent. I called this one a snake because it was a man thrice my age who came close to sexually abusing me. But I was not quiet like the chick in the story. My screams were loud enough to save me from those trecherous hands. But that’s a story for another day.

My story today is about other young women- adolescents who face countless atrocities related to their sexual and reproductive health. My reason for purpose today. The reason why I am an advocate for Sexual and Reproductive Health & Rights (SRHR) today. My sense of purpose.

The numbers I kept reading about in the newspapers were alarming. But what really pushed me to advocacy was not really the numbers I kept seeing… it was a time when I went to a clinic to do something we call outreach that involves teaching youth groups on sexual and reproductive health in a designated area. I was a youth volunteer with one of the NGOs that run an awareness program on adolescent sexuality in one of the counties.

This day felt different, even as I walked through the gate. There was commotion at the maternal wing which was adjacent to the room where I used to conduct the outreach.

Amidst the commotion, there was a mother screaming on the floor. Next to her, was a young girl lying on the bed unconscious. Lifeless. She was in school uniform so I assumed she must have been in high school and she had a huge blood stain on her green school skirt. It was hard to get close as the nurses were trying hard to restrict the crowd from going near. When I looked around, I noticed a man who stood restless near a wheelbarrow outside. Clearly stricken. It was odd to see a man with a wheelbarrow in a hospital. I could only make out his rather full jaw that seemed to be under the spell of disbelief. I made sense of the rest of his demeanor under his large hat when I approached him to ask ‘Ni nini imefanyika?’ (What has happened?).

Like a star witness in an unsolved murder case, he narrated the whole incident. It so happened that he was the one who was called from the shamba (farm) by a neighbour to wheel the young girl to hospital in a wheelbarrow. She had been accompanied by her mother to the village ‘daktari wa kienyeji’ (traditional doctor) for some traditional medication to terminate the pregnancy lest she brought shame to her family. She was pregnant, but what made things worse was that a teacher was to blame. The man then proceeded to utter the signature statement that brought my heart to a near halt…… ‘Hii mambo hufanyika kila wakati” (this happens all the time). Ati? Death or unsafe abortion? I wondered.

Whatever the case, these competing scenarios were engaged in a bitter fray in my mind. This was so wrong. So many young girls die from sexual and reproductive health related causes. In most cases, they don’t even have enough power to negotiate. In this case, this girl didn’t have the opportunity to chose the partner to have sex with. The teacher used her. So she fell pregnant because she did not have the negotiating power to chose a contraceptive method or even access an emergency contraceptive method that could save her from this unfortunate predicament. And now that she was pregnant. She went for something that she did not sign up for in the first place.

Throughout, she was powerless… and now she was dead.

Stay Tuned for Part 2 of my story because it gets even more interesting! In part 2 I get to meet a really wierd chief, and then have a ‘blanket incident’ that changes my perception of blankets forever!