Teenage pregnancies rise in parts of Kenya as lockdown shuts schools

AYENAT MERSIE 

JACKLINE Bosibori wept when she found out she was pregnant. The 17-year-old’s mother, who is raising six kids alone, collapsed in their one-room home. They had been repeatedly threatened with eviction and couldn’t afford another mouth to feed.

“If I was in school, this could have not happened,” said Bosibori, who wants to become a lawyer.

Bosibori stands with her mother Ann Kemunto outside their home in Lindi village.
4 NOV 2020. NAIROBI, KENYA. REUTERS/MONICAH MWANGI

With schools closed due to the coronavirus pandemic and her mother out selling vegetables on the roadside, Bosibori got involved with a man in his twenties. When she told him she was pregnant, he stopped answering her calls.

“I have to carry my clothes here to do my washing, it is tiring but there is nothing I can do,” said Bosibori.
21 JUL 2020. NAIROBI, KENYA. REUTERS/MONICAH MWANGI

During her pregnancy, she helped with chores like washing laundry in puddles in Kibera shanty town – a poor suburb of the Kenyan capital Nairobi where people live in tin-roofed homes crammed together and criss-crossed by railway lines.

Bosibori shops for second hand baby clothes. “I can’t believe I am actually buying this for a baby inside me,” she said.
21 JUL 2020. NAIROBI, KENYA. REUTERS/MONICAH MWANGI

In a nearby marketplace, she bought second hand clothes for the baby.

Global lockdowns could lead to rising rates of adolescent pregnancy, non-governmental organisations working on reproductive health have warned.

Bosibori stands inside her shanty.
14 JUL 2020. NAIROBI, KENYA. REUTERS/MONICAH MWANGI\

In Kenya, some preliminary data suggests that is happening.

In the far northern town of Lodwar, teenage pregnancies among clients of the International Rescue Committee aid group nearly tripled to 625 in June-August this year, compared with 226 in the same period a year earlier, IRC data show.

Bosibori feeds a hen.
4 NOV 2020. NAIROBI, KENYA. REUTERS/MONICAH MWANGI

In the nearby refugee camp of Kakuma, adolescent pregnancies among clients jumped to 51 in the March-August 2020 period, compared with 15 in the same period in 2019.

Bosibori lies on a hospital bed as a midwife listens to her unborn baby’s heartbeat. “I am certain that I will give birth safely and my baby will be healthy,” she said.
14 JUL 2020. NAIROBI, KENYA. REUTERS/MONICAH MWANGI

At the clinic that Bosibori attended for antenatal visits – often with her classmate, who also became pregnant around the same time as her – the number of expectant girls has been climbing.

“Since COVID-19 started, we are having more,” said nurse Joy Ambiyo.

And more pregnant girls may be skipping doctors’ visits altogether.

Bosibori’s younger sisters Maurine Bochaderi, 7, Faith Nyakerario, 5, and Angela Moraa, 12, spend time with Bosibori’s newborn daughter.
11 NOV 2020. NAIROBI, KENYA. REUTERS/MONICAH MWANGI

“We know that young girls who get pregnant do not access healthcare services like adult females because of the judgment,” said Ademola Olajide, the United Nations Population Fund representative in Kenya.

That makes them more vulnerable to health complications and unsafe abortions, he added.

Globally, pregnancy and childbirth are the leading causes of death for girls aged between 15 and 19, according to the World Health Organization.

A nurse shows Bosibori how to breastfeed her one-day-old daughter at Kenyatta National Hospital. “I don’t know what I feel right now, I am having mixed feelings,” Bosibori said.
10 NOV 2020. NAIROBI, KENYA. REUTERS/MONICAH MWANGI

Bosibori had some complications of her own. Her doctors recommended a caesarean section, but she and her mother Ann were apprehensive and sought approval from a traditional healer.

With the healer’s blessing, Bosibori had the procedure and delivered a healthy 3.3 kg baby girl.

Bosibori holds her newborn daughter.11 NOV 2020.
NAIROBI, KENYA. REUTERS/MONICAH MWANGI

“I am happy the baby is here, the anxiety is now over,” said Bosibori as she held her new-born child on the family’s only bed, flanked by dusty old speakers that act as bedside tables.

Bosibori is surrounded with her sisters as she holds her newborn daughter.
11 NOV 2020. NAIROBI, KENYA. REUTERS/MONICAH MWANGI

Until January, when Kenya’s schools are set to fully reopen, Bosibori will be caring for the baby full time, squeezing in revision when she can.

Bosibori’s mother (left) and her friend spend time with her newborn granddaughter.
11 NOV 2020. NAIROBI, KENYA. REUTERS/MONICAH MWANGI

After that, Ann, who had Bosibori when she was 18, said she’ll find a way to care for her grandchild.

“The girl has to go back to school.”