Whether or not to introduce sex education in the school curriculum has been a thorny issue even as studies show that age-appropriate sex education contributes to lower prevalence of teenage pregnancies.
A study on the role sex education plays in the initiation of sexual activity and risk of teen pregnancy published on Journal of Adolescent Health shows an affirmative influence of sex education on teenagers.
In their study Abstinence-only and comprehensive sex education and the initiation of sexual activity and teen pregnancy, researchers Kohler P. K.et.al. found that adolescents who received comprehensive sex education had a lower risk of pregnancy than those who received abstinence-only or no sex education.
Busia Women Representative Florence Mutua had a shocking encounter that made her realise just how urgent it is to have girls and boys exposed to sex education.
“I recently interacted with a pregnant girl in my county and when I asked her who is responsible, she adamantly denied sleeping with anyone.”
Ms Mutua, who chairs the Parliamentary Committee on Education, says she will push for integration of sex education in the school curriculum.
It is a requirement included in her Sexual Offences Amendment Bill (2020) that:” CS responsible for matters relating to education shall prescribe guidelines for the inclusion of sex education in school syllabuses which shall have regard to age of the child to content of sex education.”
She proposes that the Ministry of Education develops a module for teaching pupils starting from Class Five.
Ms Mutua adds that sex education is often misconstrued to teachings on how to engage in sex, a belief she says is failing the boys and girls.
“We have to face the reality that girls and boys are engaging in sex. And most don’t even know that it results to pregnancy,” she says.
Latest data from the National Council on Population and Development shows that one in five girls aged between 15 and 19 in Kenya is either pregnant or has given birth.
While in the past four months, reports of teens arrested engaging in sexual relations or dozens of teenagers impregnated have prominently featured in the media.
Data from District Health Information System (DHIS) also shows cumulative hospital visits of 164,951 girls aged between 10-19 years between January and May 2020, a reflection of high prevalence of teenage pregnancies.
In Netherlands, for instance, sex education begins in preschool and is integrated into all levels and subjects of schooling, a practice that has contributed to low teen birth rates at 4.8 per 1,000 births, indicates Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
Action and Advocacy Manager at People’s Action for Learning (PAL) Network Amos Kaburu says sex education should not be confused for teaching children to have sex but having a comprehensive system that protects the rights of girls and boys from the household to national level.
He argues that factors influencing girls and boys into early sexual relations are far wide including peer pressure, parental irresponsibility, media and social media.
“We have to consider the extent to which parents or media influence the kids into sex and how they can be prepared to avail information on their sexuality,” he says.
Instead of introducing sex education in the school curriculum, Mr Kaburu prefers strengthening social institutions with information on sex education including the family, churches and mosques as this would ensure children are in contact with the necessary information at every level of interaction.
“We don’t have to rush into including in it in the curriculum. Schools don’t have the capacity to solely provide the sex education. That will be adding an extra burden to teachers,” he argues.
He says the health system should provide age-appropriate reproductive healthcare to meet the specific needs of teenage mothers.
Ms Grace Sarange, a teacher in Vihiga County, is of a different opinion. She says teachers counsel Class Five to Class Eight pupils and so introducing sex education into the curriculum, will seamlessly fall into their daily teaching activities.
The teacher-pupil relationship makes it easier for them to educate the boys and girls about sex-related matters than parents, she notes.
“There is nothing like shame for us because we will be doing our work just like before,” she says.
“There are cases where kids get too close to immediate relatives because their parents are absent… the relatives start sexually assaulting them since they know their parents don’t care what happens in their lives.”
Rita Mutua, a mother of two, partly attributes teenage pregnancies to failure by parents to teach and nurture their children. She says erosion of the African culture that valued lineage is also leading to teen pregnancies.
“We don’t have time for our kids. You find kids using phones so they know more than you can imagine. What do you expect then?” poses Ms Mutua, a resident of Nakuru town.
Mr Brian Onchari, a father of one, says age-appropriate sex education is influential to building morals and respect for oneself if communicated well. In the long-term, boys and girls will practice utmost discretion when interacting with persons of opposite sex, he says.
Campaign Officer at Equality Now, Florence Machio says offering contextualised sex education would tame teen pregnancy.
“What you tell a one year-old is not the same as the one you tell a 10-year-old. And what you tell a child in Kibra is not the same as what you tell the child elsewhere,” she says.
She, however, says sex education is not enough without a complete support system stretching from healthcare to Judiciary.
“I can give you information but I don’t give you the services, then that does not solve the problem,” she says.
Ms Machio says for sex education to be effective, stakeholders, State and non-State institutions should be involved including schools, community, church, local administrators, police and judicial officers.
“We have to create a conducive environment such that if a girl is defiled, she is able to report and the perpetrator is arrested and prosecuted.
“And if she is pregnant, she is supported to go back to school and the community doesn’t stigmatise her,” says Ms Machio.