The year is 2020. It starts off okay… pretty much and then comes a disease, a Virus. They call it COVID-19 and it shakes the planet as we know it. Shakes it to its very core. Many die, even more despair and all that is left for Kenyans and Africans at large is hope. C.S Kagwe announces the first cases of COVID-19 in Kenya on March 13th. Two days later the kids have to promptly close schools and stay home indefinitely (this is cushioned with a six month estimated time period). We are told that it is for their SAFETY. The country is in a frenzy. My country people are anxious, as am I, as are minors.
The month is June. We are still trying to figure out how to accept, adjust and cope with the new normal of masks, sanitizers and online meetings. I have just figured out how to use zoom and I am ecstatic. Small wins no? A fortnight or so into June I get a Google notification from my Daily Nation subscription (I don’t really watch the news). I open it and to my dismay, the headline reads ‘Report on Teen Pregnancies Alarms Kenyans’. As I read through this report and the overwhelming number of rape cases among teenage girls, by grown men; mostly family members and neighbors and the increased transactional sexual activities among minors, it dawns on me that through all this, it never crossed my mind to think about how these young girls and boys whose routines were equally disrupted when the pandemic hit are coping. I realize that school is a safe haven for most of these children and home where they are meant to be SAFE is not always the case. Even more ironic is, most parents do not know how to handle their children. It therefore probes the question, how SAFE really are they? A feeling of immense guilt overcomes me. Why was I only thinking about my well-being and how I will be affected when the economic affairs go South? Why didn’t I think of the well-being of other people and especially children in marginalized communities?
On further research, in a bid to pre-empt the guilt I feel from consuming me, I come across some very nerve wrecking facts. Even as I start to read through the first article, I already know that I am about to maim the empath in me, but I keep on because I know that these are facts I must have as I act and call others to action. I find out that one in every five teenage girls in Kenya gets pregnant before their 19thbirthday. That means that 20% of our girls have either been pregnant or have had a live birth by the time they are 19 years old. Yes, some of the pregnancies are intended and are a result of consensual sex but 90%, which is more significant, are not! Less surprisingly, 14% of Kenyan women aged 15-49 years according to KNBS have been sexually assaulted in one way or another. Again, our children, minors need I add, fall into this unfortunate category. I stumble upon another article informing me that according to WHO, complications relating to pregnancy and childbirth are already the leading cause of death for girls aged 15-19 years globally. Why… why are our children dying from preventable occurrences? After the third article on minors (as young as three years old) getting defiled I make the conscious decision to stop before my heart literally crumbles into unsalvageable pieces. Amid my heart palpitations and increasing anxiety, I begin to reflect and ask myself so many questions, but I realize that the only way for the status quo to change, is if I act and prompt those around me, including you, to do the same.
Now, bearing these facts in mind and acknowledging that the COVID-19 pandemic has only made things worse, ask yourself: what can I do to make sure that my daughter/niece/sister/cousin/neighbor/friend who is a minor, does not become a statistic? I will give you a few suggestions that you may utilize to pragmatically answer this question.
- You know what they say about an idle mind so you can find fun and interactive activities to keep them busy and together create a routine they can adhere to now that they are at home and will be for a few more months. This will divert their minds to more productive thoughts.
- Normalize talking to teenagers in their spaces and on their level. You will learn a lot about how they think and you can advise accordingly.
- Normalize teaching SRHR (Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights) to teenage girls. Because sexual relations are happening among teenagers. Better to address it than deny it.
- Be a chaperone to your teenage cognates so that they can feel safe and are not an easy target for looming predators.
- Normalize reporting cases of abuse to relevant authorities and do not stigmatize victims of abuse!
Remember to wear your masks, sanitize and keep safe!