Over 2000 girls get impregnated in Rangwe constituency, Homa Bay County in Kenya annually.
According to the Constituency AIDS Control Coordinator, Judith Adhiambo two of the latest cases were reported last week even after many suspects behind the spate of pregnancies were charged in court.
Adhiambo said the early pregnancies were mostly due to fishing in Lake Victoria where notorious fisher folk aka Joboya (Men/Women) demanded sex for fish and use their financial muscle to woo victims. No wonder most of them brag about having ‘out growers’ (children out of wedlock), she stated.
The sub-county has a population of 125, 000 people spread out in 13 locations and 17 sub-locations where stakeholders strive to contain the Triple Threat; Early Pregnancies, Sexual & Gender Based Violence (SGBV) as well as HIV/AIDS among young girls and teenage mothers.
This is what drove Grated Pillars, a local CBO chaired by Kennedy Osewe to take the bold step of faith in the hope of saving 140 teen mums, 80 girls and 40 boys to be enrolled in a rehabilitation program.
Osewe told journalists from the Media for Environment, Science, Health & Agriculture (MESHA) Kisumu Chapter led by the organization’s Secretary, Daniel Aghan that a lot of these youngsters have finished college, are employed or are on internship.
“We engaged VIRED and Plan International NGOs who are our key partners to fund the program with a complete follow up to provide them seed money for businesses,” he told the scribes who were on a fact finding mission to assess the impact of Triple Threat challenges on the local community.
Osewe said they also arranged with respective parents and guardians to care for the children of the teen mothers adding that during holidays, the group is taken through counseling sessions to fast-track the healing process.
“None of the 80 girls has added another child and we are working with respective Chiefs, after the vulnerable group got necessary support towards ensuring them a more stable and promising future through education among other forms of empowerment,” he added.
The 40 boys in the program are believed to have been rescued from fishing and alleged to have contributed to impregnating majority of the girls soon after dropping out of school and thus posed serious competition to adult perpetrators (Joboya).
Osewe said the child-headed families having been abandoned by parents who parted ways owing to persistent SGBV that culminated into separation or divorce exposed the young ones to the vagaries of hostile lifestyle and poverty.
He described adolescent girls and boys as having ‘hot blood’ and so engaged in irresponsible and unprotected sexual liaisons which often ended up in early pregnancy, SGBV or the dreaded HIV/AIDS apart from other Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs).
With the youngest teen mother being 15 years old, Osewe admitted that it was difficult to take deterrent measures against male perpetrators owing to poor investigations and late reporting of rape and defilement cases to the investigating agencies among other technicalities.
He said they have nurtured 26 boys and girls into champions trained on how best to help counsel survivors.
Rose Achieng from Kochia, Rangwe sub-county and a mother to one of the teenage mothers confided that she has had it rough doing menial jobs to care for the grandchild as the young daughter proceeded to college despite the biting poverty.
Achieng said she had to keep counseling the daughter who finally agreed to go back to school at St. Innocent, Jonyo secondary. “I had to suffer the burden of looking for school fees, food and caring for my grandson despite the fact that I am a widow,” she narrated.
Her neighbor Dorine Adhiambo revealed that she gave birth to three boys and a girl who is epileptic and was sadly defiled 2 years ago; in July, 2020 after she (mother) left home for two days to harvest her crops.
“I was shocked to the bone on hearing that the hapless girl had been sexually molested by a neighbor. The matter was reported to the village elder who appeared clueless on what action to take and so it was transferred to the area chief,” explained Adiambo.
However, the 30 year old mother said luck was on her side since the girl tested negative for pregnancy and HIV but it was futile counseling her owing to a mental illness she suffers. She said her second born is on medication but doesn’t attend school.
Felix Omoro, a local SGBV monitor, said five suspects have so far been arraigned in court but stressed that there is still a lot of work stakeholders should do if they hope to slay the Triple Threat dragon of Early pregnancies, SGBV and HIV/AIDS.
In the neighboring Karachuonyo, Justus Ochola the Constituency Aids Control Coordinator (CASCO) said out of a population of 190, 000 people, 19,000 of them have been put on treatment for HIV/AIDS.
Ochola told MESHA members at Pala market center where Ekidilania group converged to point out success stories they have initiated at: Kadia, Kokidi, Kochola and Kamunday clans said they have empowered members through food security, kitchen gardens and poultry farming. “These efforts greatly helps our HIV positive members cope well with the challenges brought about by Covid 19 pandemic,”he revealed.
The group singled out poverty, child headed families and uncontrolled internet use as the factors driving teenagers into irresponsible sex. The scenario mainly follows family breakups which leaves children without parental guidance.
Rangwe Constituency Aids & STI Coordinator, Joseph Otieno Onduu said the Triple Threat; HIV, SGBV and Teen Pregnancy cases over the March, April and May, 2022 Quarter stood at 9, 2 and 4 respectively for ages 10 – 14 years. For those aged 15 – 19 years March had 91, April 102 and May 85.
The data indicated that by 2020 for those aged 15 – 49 years the HIV average infection rate for Homa Bay was 17.3 percent. The data, he said, was tabulated after young adults numbering 3054 were subjected to testing leading to the conclusion that HIV prevalence was still a major issue in the area.
The County AIDS Coordinator Justus Ochola disclosed that out of 126, 000 people infected in Homa Bay, 97,000 are attended to in public health facilities while 30,000 were accessing treatment in private health facilities.
Ochola revealed that 33 percent of local teenagers aged 10 – 19 years have been impregnated with Homa Bay making the county second nationally with the leading being Narok County.
He said there were 1441 SGBV cases over the first Quarter (January – April, 2022).
“Despite high SGBV reports, unscrupulous administrators and parents held Kangaroo courts where they determined the cases in the community instead of seeking legal redress in our courts of law. This was done to avoid embarrassment,” Ochola explained.
The good news is that a rescue center has been built at Makongeni health center to provide protection to victims and prevent their interaction with perpetrators, who on being released bragged that they were untouchables.
Ochola said marital rape was never reported thus the justification why 24, 000 people in Rachuonyo were put on ARVs with a majority of them aged 10 – 14 years and still spreading HIV to many.
Data from the Ministry of Health indicate that Kenya has made tremendous progress in the fight against Early Pregnancies, HIV/AIDS and SGBV targeting adolescent and teenage girls. Teenage pregnancies reduced from 427,135 (2018) to 317,644 in 2021.
HIV infections among adolescent girls also reduced significantly from 343 girls per week (2015) to 98 weekly (2021). This prompted the Principal Secretary for Health, Susan Mochache to urge the public to redouble their efforts in order to eliminate the Triple Threat.
Mochache said between January – February, 2022 Kenya recorded 45,700 cases of early pregnancy among adolescent girls nationally. “The early teenage sexual activities led to increase in new HIV infections among the group,” she said.
The PS cited an increase of people living with HIV and put on life-saving Anti-Retro-Viral treatment from 600,000 (2018) to 1.2 million people (2021) thus a steady rise.
She said the number of SGBV continued to soar despite government efforts to stem the vices in the hope of making our country safer for our girls to continue living without fear of being robbed of their virginity early in life.
She said in 2021 there were a total of 23, 279 pregnancy cases among teenage girls aged 10 – 14 years captured in the health facilities. “The Triple Threat fueled the spread and effects of AIDs and by doing so diminished the teenage girls’ self-esteem and quality of life,” she added.
PS Mochache said while the Ministry has embarked on a journey to ensure every Kenyan has access to quality health services, securing the health of young girls remains a priority.