Kenya (MNN) — Kenya considers 2020 to be a “lost” school year. But pregnant teenage girls in the country stand to lose much more than that.
Underage pregnancy has been a problem in Kenya for a long time, but COVID-19 has inflated the numbers. Vincent Michael of FMI says the economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic (along with locust swarms and the flooding of Lake Victoria) has led a lot of teen girls into isolation and desperation.
“The girls end up resorting to transactional sex,” Michael says. “This is causing a spike. It’s increased by 100%, double the normal amount of teen pregnancies in western Kisumu County.”
In Kenya, girls under 18 cannot legally consent to sexual activity, so most of these pregnancies came from sexual assault. However, all of the consequences will fall on the girls themselves. Michael says, “Ninety-eight percent of the girls that get pregnant while they’re still teenagers will not return and finish their education. It’s going to put them at it at a huge disadvantage, that’s going to then domino effect into longer-term consequences. They will be more dependent upon marriages that may not be healthy.”
Shame surrounding women’s health
Prevailing cultural attitudes in Kenya make it much more difficult for girls to take care of themselves. “In Kenya,” Michael says, “and this is the case in many third-world and developing countries, there is a very high level of shame associated with women’s health.”
Anything related to sexuality is considered taboo in Kenya, especially female sexuality. Many families are too ashamed even to buy menstruation products for their daughters. The government has provided for these products since the families won’t, but COVID-19 has disrupted distribution.
These attitudes clash with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the God who Himself took on human flesh and bone. In his death and resurrection, he gives human bodies, male and female, the highest level of honor and dignity.
The role of the church in Kenya
Michael says it’s important for teen Christians in Kenya to have fellowship with the Church. Unfortunately, churches in Kenya haven’t been able to meet during COVID-19, and they don’t have the same internet technology available for online counsel and services. “That cuts the girls off from a major source of counsel that they could be receiving from their pastors and from older women.”
Michael asks Christians to pray that churches would be able to gather in Kenya and help take care of these teenagers. Pray also that through Christians’ care for women’s health, many would be drawn to the love of Jesus.
Young women in Kenya need the fellowship of the church and the hope of Christ. (Photo courtesy of Kenya Hope)