Opinion

Proposed law will compromise campaign against teenage pregnancy

Proposed law will compromise campaign against teenage pregnancy
  • Many young people, adolescents included, may either shy away from seeking the services.
  • One of these is that health providers may be biased or not feel comfortable serving sexually active youth.

  • The young people may not feel comfortable either because the set-up does not meet their needs.

The Senate’s Health Committee will Thursday receive views from interested parties regarding the 2019 Reproductive Healthcare Bill.

The timing of the bill could not be any better. It comes hot on the heels of the government’s commitment to address sexual and reproductive health issues affecting adolescents at the ICPD+25 Summit held in Nairobi last November. Kenya has since launched a campaign to eliminate female genital mutilation (FGM) and, more recently, against teenage pregnancy.

However, Part Seven of the bill, which touches on the adolescents’ sexual and reproductive health, is likely to make it difficult to address the challenges that they face. It will compromise our success in the campaign against teenage pregnancy.

As comprehensively articulated in the National Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Policy of 2015, which proposes several interventions, key among the challenges is providing adolescent-friendly sexual and reproductive health services.

The policy defines these as services delivered in ways that are responsive to this group’s specific needs, vulnerabilities and desires. Besides, they should be offered in a non-judgmental and confidential way that fully respects human dignity.

Section 32 (2) of the bill talks about adolescent-friendly sexual and reproductive health services but leaves out knowledge of pregnancy, prevention of pregnancy and information about contraception. Section 33 (a) then requires health providers to seek parental consent before providing adolescents with sexual and reproductive health services.

Face high barriers

These two sections are anything but youth-friendly. Young people aged 10-24 face high barriers in accessing sexual and reproductive health services that are unique to them due to their stage in life — their associated special needs, perceptions and abilities. Due to that, they hardly ever seek sexual and reproductive health services, especially from public health facilities that provide these services to the majority of Kenyans.

Many young people, adolescents included, even when in need of reproductive health services, may either shy away from seeking the services or be denied access to them for several reasons. One of these is that health providers may be biased or not feel comfortable serving sexually active youth. The young people may not feel comfortable either because the set-up does not meet their needs.

Instructively, only one in 10 public health facilities are equipped to provide youth-friendly services, the 2010 Kenya Service Provision Assessment Survey shows.

Another major barrier is that many communities believe that unmarried youth must not be sexually active and should, therefore, not have access to reproductive health services.

If, indeed, the bill seeks to actualise Article 43 (1) (a) of the Constitution, which guarantees every person the right to the highest attainable standard of health, including reproductive healthcare, then amend Part Seven of the proposed bill.

In fact, a good proportion of Kenyan adolescents are sexually active or will be in the course of their adolescence. The 2014 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey shows about four of 10 adolescents (37 per cent of girls and 41 per cent of boys) have had sexual intercourse. It is important, therefore, that they are provided with the necessary sexual and reproductive health information and services.

The proposed bill should be amended to align with the provisions and the spirit of the 2015 policy, so far our best shot at resolving the sexual and reproductive health issues of adolescents.

Ms Samba is the Kenya country director at Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevoelkerung (DSW);