UNFPA is working with local organizations and community members to reduce adolescent pregnancy rates. © UNFPA Kenya/Doulgas Waudo
These pregnancies tend to be the result of having few choices in life. The girls affected often lack access to sexual and reproductive health information. Pregnancy only exacerbates their vulnerability to poverty, exclusion and exploitation. It can also take a dangerous toll on their health – complications from pregnancy are a leading cause of death among adolescent girls.
Yet it is all too common. Every day in developing countries, an estimated 20,000 girls younger than 18 give birth.
In Kenya, nearly one in five girls aged 15-19 have already had a baby or are pregnant, according to a 2014 survey.
UNFPA is working the government and the International Centre for Reproductive Health (ICRH) to reduce these underage pregnancies and keep girls in school. They are engaging the community all levels, including schools and youth themselves.
They are also supporting public forums that raise awareness about sexual and reproductive health, gender equality, girls’ rights and the importance of education. Community outreach campaigns and peer education programmes are also helping to spread these messages.
Best friends push for change
About 50 yards away from Purity’s hut is the home of 18-year-old Naomi Kitsao. She is also a married mother of two. In fact, she and Purity were best friends in school.
“When Purity got a boyfriend while we were in school, we used to admire her,” Naomi said. “Her boyfriend used to buy her gifts and treat her so well. Most girls in school desperately wanted to be like her.”
Under peer pressure, Naomi became sexually active when she was 14 years old.
“It was fun and cool to have boys dying to have you. It made one feel wanted, loved and appreciated,” she said, explaining that many teenagers believed it was impossible to get pregnant or contract HIV at their age.
By the time she was expecting her second child, she was attending a tailoring college, but had to drop out for lack of money. Now, like Purity, she is unemployed, as is her husband.
But neither she nor Purity have lost hope.
Both young women were reached through a door-to-door community outreach effort, and have received training about their reproductive health and rights through the UNFPA-supported peer education programme.
The two have emerged as powerful advocates for change, teaching other young people how to prevent sexually transmitted infections and that contraceptives can help them determine whether and when to get pregnant.
They hope this information will help others finish their educations, even if they were not able to themselves.