Photo: Julius Mwelu/IRIN
A "censored sex education campaign" has
left Kenyan teens without adequate
knowledge about how to prevent pregnancy
Julia Nyaberi's* "clinic" in Majengo, a slum in
Kenya's capital, Nairobi, caters to one type
of client only - pregnant women seeking abortions.
Young women writhe in pain on the floor
of the poorly lit house; the neighbours all know
what happens here and have become
immune to the moans and wails.
"They come to me and each pays me
50 shillings [US$0.70]," Nyaberi told
IRIN/PlusNews. "Most of them are
sex workers who operate here
in Majengo and have conceived by mistake."
She uses a concoction of herbs
to induce abortion, and admits there
have been fatalities. "Even qualified drivers
at times cause accidents; I do not do this job
to kill anyone, but at times some are
unlucky and go together with the child
they came to abort," she said.
Diana Awuor*, 21, is a sex worker
in Majengo, and fell pregnant after
unprotected sex with a regular client.
"Not that I have sex without a condom
every day but there are some regular clients
you can excuse at times and I think that
is how I became pregnant," she said.
"We cannot do our work while pregnant
because nobody will want you, so I have
to abort to stay in business, and also,
I don't want a baby."
Ministry of Health statistics put the number
of Kenyan girls and women who
have abortions every year at 300,000; abortion
remains illegal so many of these take place
in back-street clinics like Nyaberi's.
According to the International Planned
Parenthood Federation, unsafe abortions
account for between 30 and 50 percent
of maternal deaths in Kenya.
"One person attending to up to even five women
without sterilizing whatever instruments
are being used can spread HIV,"
said Jacky Abuor, a counsellor at
the faith-based Kenyan NGO,
Crisis Pregnancy Ministries, which works
with young women dealing with unwanted pregnancies.
The legalization debate
A recent study by the local NGO, Centre
for the Study of Adolescence (CSA),
found that four in 10 Kenyan girls
had sex before the age of 19,
many with multiple partners and often
in exchange for gifts such as mobile phone airtime
or food. Along with the predictable public outcry,
the report re-ignited the legalization debate.
Women's rights groups have long urged
the government to legalize abortion
to prevent the high number of maternal deaths
from unsafe procedures.
A Reproductive Health and Rights Bill
proposing that "safe and accessible
abortion-related care" be enshrined
in the constitution as a reproductive right
was tabled in Parliament in 2008
by the Federation of Women Lawyers
and the Coalition On Violence Against
Women; MPs have yet to vote on the issue.
The country's anti-abortion movement
has powerful backers, from religious leaders
to politicians, such as Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka.
"When you say four out of 10 girls
have engaged in sex, how do we keep
the remaining six from being lured into early sex?
The window lies in counselling
and education," said Anne Muisyo,
"Abstinence and worth the wait"
programme coordinator at Crisis Pregnancy Ministries.
"Sex education at the early stages of life
and especially targeting young people
can significantly turn the tide
and prevent new cases of HIV,"
Paul Mitei, head of gynaecology
in western Kenya's Nyanza Provincial Hospital.
Speaking at a recent meeting in Nairobi,
Kenya's director of public health,
Shanaaz Sharif, admitted that
opposition from parents, religious groups
and some civil society bodies
had led to a "censored sex education campaign" in schools.
Agnes Odawa, in charge of guidance
and counselling at the education ministry,
told IRIN/PlusNews the government
had plans to introduce a more detailed
sex education package as part of the school curriculum.
Responding to the CSA's findings,
the head of the National AIDS Control
Council, Alloys Orago, said the government
was also looking into the promotion
of condom use among teenagers.
Currently the government's HIV prevention
programme for teens revolves around
the promotion of abstinence,
with a nationwide media campaign
urging young people to "chill",
or abstain, from early sex.
"Many young girls and even boys in rural
areas and poor settings do not really know
about contraception; those of them who use
the condom only know it as a means
of preventing HIV," said Mitei.
"There is a need to promote condoms
to young people both as an HIV
preventive measure and birth control measure."
* not her real name
Sent from Kigali, Rwanda