Mind youth sexual health
Of the 47.6 million Kenyas, 13,777,600 are aged 18 to 34, or 35.7 million under 35, making the youth 75 per cent of the population, according to the 2019 census. Adolescents, age 10-19, were 11,631,929 (24.5 per cent) and the number has gradually increased since 2009.
The average age of first sexual intercourse (or sexual debut) is put at 15. But a prevalence of sexual initiation before age 13 and even under 10 is reported. At puberty, children undergo biological and physical changes. Girls and boys become sexually mature and their bodies capable of sexual reproduction. Puberty occurs at 10-14 for girls and 12-16 for boys.
This is a critical stage in the lives of adolescents; they require connection, guidance and talk about their bodily changes. With technology, they become explorative and may engage in unsafe sex, leading to HIV and STI infection and teen pregnancy.
A UNFPA report puts Kenya’s teen pregnancy and motherhood rates at 18 per cent; one in five adolescent girls either had a live birth or is pregnant with her first child. Slightly more than half of new HIV infections occurred at age 15-24 in 2015 and rising.
This is increasing due to structural barriers that are either culturally or religiously perpetuated.
The Ministry of Health need to prioritise implementation of policies that promote the sexual and reproductive health of adolescents and youth, including training of public health providers in the provision adolescent-friendly services to ensure no adolescent is turned away from hospital for seeking contraceptive services and information.
Stakeholders, especially the Health and Education ministries, have a key role in ensuring facilitation of comprehensive sexuality education for adolescents in and out of school to equip them with knowledge and capacity to making informed sexual choices.
And in this Digital Age, embracing toll-free hotlines that address related issues is essential to ensure access to timely, factual and quality sexual and reproductive health information for young people.
Ms Odhiambo is the Youth Coordinator Reproductive Health Network Kenya (RHNK). [email protected]