Volunteer worker: Why I have made it my business to talk to girls during Covid-19 period
By Mathew Ndung’u
Jane Maina, a volunteer health worker from Murera village in Juja, Kiambu County, has seen many astonishing things in her line of work in the last 22 years.
However, nothing has rattled her more than what has been going on in the country in the last 10 months since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. When the government closed all schools in February to curb the spread of the virus, she started noticing a worrying trend.
In the first three months, three pregnant girls approached her seeking help.
“After interacting with the girls they disclosed that two of their friends from the same village were also pregnant. This forced me to urgently find a way of addressing the problem,” she said.
Maina, has volunteered to sensitise young girls about the dangers or premature sex and early marriages.
Shocking reports from Kenya Health Information Management System (KHIS) 2020 revealed that about 4,000 girls were impregnated between the months of March and May, a situation that has been blamed on cultural, religious and socio-economic factors. Although this figure has been disputed, rising cases of children partying and engaging in sexual activities over this period is a pointer that all is not well.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) indicates that pregnancy and childbirth complications are the leading cause of death among girls aged 15 to 19 years.
This is what motivated Maina to create awareness about the dangers of early pregnancies.
At this age, the girls are not qualified to benefit from the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) and Linda Mama, a programme which allocates Sh6,000 to pregnant women giving birth in public hospitals.
Maina, through the help of the local administration managed to secure the help of doctors who have been offering counselling and guidance lessons to the girls and guiding them on where to access ante-natal clinic services for those already pregnant.
The programme that started with only five girls has benefited over 70 girls.
“I started by engaging the girls for life skills lessons alone but we have since grown to sporting activities such as learning how to dance and playing football,” she said.
Maina blamed poor parenting for rising cases of pregnancies among children, saying parents no longer interact freely with their children so that they can know the challenges they are facing.
“Parents no longer spare time for their children and they learn from social media, which is one of the reason we are seeing a rising number of teen pregnancies,” she noted.
Maina, who has also been engaging her male friends to help her fight violation of girls’ rights, urges men not to take advantage of young girls and instead join her in a campaign to better their lives.
At the same time, she called on the government to rein in on those who take advantage of the girls.
“We have tried to talk to the pregnant girls alongside their friends who are also at risk. We can, however, not reach all the girls due to Covid-19 protocols, financial constraints and refusal by a section of parents to allow to come here,” she said.
According to Jane Wachera, a counsellor, since the onset of Covid-19, some girls are engaging in early sex with their colleagues or older men. She said that she has joined Maina in the initiative to rescue the girls.
The programme, she said, helps the girls as most of them do not have time with their parents. This is because their parents spend time most of their time working as casuals in coffee farms and construction sites to support their families.
“We are committed to continuing with this programme just to keep the girls safe from sex predators. We have a duty to mind the future of our young. We intend to continue despite the financial challenges we are facing,” she said.
Reports from Ruiru District Hospital where most of the pregnant girls have been going for their clinic visits, indicates reduced cases of teen pregnancies between the months of July and October, with those involved in rescuing the girls taking pride in success of the project.
On their side, the girls narrated how the men have been tricking them into early sex by promising them better lives and sometimes hoodwinking them with a packet of chips.
Through the sessions that happen once per week, the girls said they have managed to learn, in depth matters about sex, early pregnancies and good morals.
“Our parents are busy and hardly have time for us. The weekly talks have gone a long way in helping us learn about sex and our bodies,” Joy Mumbi, one of the teens said.