When I meet 16-year-old Elsa, my first impression of her is a confident young woman. At five months pregnant, she carries herself with a heap of self-assurance. I get down to listening to her story.
Elsa’s childhood was not a smooth sail. She lost her mother at the age of six years. Following her death, her father, who is based in Kisumu county, sent her to live with her aunt in Kibera, Nairobi county. Her education went on without challenges until she fell pregnant early this year.
Kicked out of home
When she discovered she was pregnant, she was in Form 2 at a mixed public sub-county secondary school in Nairobi. Upon learning of her pregnancy, her aunt promptly threw her out of the house, reminding that her accommodation in her house was based on condition that she would focus on her studies. Pregnancy was not allowed.
With Elsa having ‘broken’ that agreement, and with her aunt unwilling to listen to her pleas, the teenager moved in with her boyfriend –a 20-year-old who works at a car wash. She is now a married woman.
While growing up, Elsa wanted to be a lawyer. But this changed along the way, where she aspired to be a teacher. Now, she harbours ambitions of being a caterer since she enjoys making delicious meals. At the moment, she is a housewife.
Kenya’s national school re-entry Guidelines provide that a learner who is pregnant shall be allowed to remain in school as long as possible.
I ask Elsa if she is aware she can continue going to school even while pregnant.
“Yes I would have continued, but I feel ashamed and embarrassed. I had seen what happened to girls who had gotten pregnant in school and didn’t want the same to happen to me. Other students would gossip about the pregnant girl’s behaviour, sometimes calling her promiscuous. Afraid of facing similar ridicule, I have not returned to school,” she says.
Kenya’s school re-entry Guidelines stipulate that the teenage mother can re-enter school six months after delivery, which provides time for her to nurse the baby. With this information, I ask Elsa if she plans on returning to school after childbirth.
“Maybe I will, I don’t know. But what I know for sure is that I cannot go back to the same school. Even though the teachers would be supportive, I fear the mockery from my schoolmates.”
Boarding school is better
Elsa says she would instead prefer going to a girls’ boarding school.
“I believe I would have better concentration if I were in a boarding school as it has fewer distractions. Unfortunately, I know this is just a far-fetched dream because my boyfriend cannot afford the boarding school fees. Who would also watch our child when I’m away in school?” she ponders.
Elsa remains grateful for her supportive boyfriend.
“I don’t lack anything in the house. He brings home food and gives me money to go for my antenatal clinics. I know he will also provide for our baby. He’s a good man,” she says.
- In Kenya, early pregnancy refers to pregnancy that occurs in the life of a girl below the country’s age of consent (which is 18 years).
- Early pregnancy has been shown to be the main reason for school drop-out of adolescent girls.
- In 2021, about 21% or 317,644 of all pregnancies were among adolescents aged 10-19 years.
- A survey by the National Council for Population and Development (NCPD) in conjunction with the Ministry of Health (MoH) revealed that in Kibera sub-county, where Elsa resides, the number of adolescents (10-19 years) who presented with pregnancy at first ante-natal care visit in 2021 were 1,076.
What are your thoughts on Elsa’s predicament? What do you think about teenage moms’ return to school? Is enough being done, or a lot more can be done? Comment down below.
If you work in an organization that deals with teenage mothers that you’d like highlighted, reach out to me on firstname.lastname@example.org
*Name changed for purposes of protecting her identity.
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