Adolescents and young people in Kenya grapple with many sexual and reproductive health and rights challenges. Young people between the ages of 10-24 continue to face challenges such as teen pregnancy, unsafe abortion, HIV/AIDS, sexual violence, Female Genital Mutilation or Cutting, and lack of access to quality and affordable health services.  All of these issues are preventable, but unfortunately, remain present to this day.

 

Like many other countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Kenya’s population is comprised of diverse demographics.  Kenya’s identity is characterised by a huge youthful population, most of whom are unemployed due to a staggering economy that doesn’t create new opportunities, making them dependent to the few who are employed.  However, this group of enthusiastic young people are passionate about their contribution at community, national and global levels, and so this generation of young people therefore should not be viewed as a ‘national burden’, but rather, as an opportunity waiting to unfold.

Kenya can only harness economic and social growth in the next two decades if it makes the right investments in the health of young people.  Health services alone would not be the ideal solution, but investing in quality education – including sexual and reproductive health information – would be a significant step in the right direction.  

The reality is that Kenya’s education curriculum as currently structured does little to address most dire needs for adolescents when it comes to sexual and reproductive health and rights.  Although our education curriculum has provided some information around what is obliquely known as ‘life skills’ – predominantly about HIV/AIDS prevention and management – teachers tend to focus on examinable subjects only.  There is a strong emphasis within the education system on pure competition: a good student is considered one who achieves good grades and is enrolled in the best performing school.  This explains why teachers opt to put more energy in more traditional disciplines of knowledge and disregard the critical component that is sexuality education.

Our Ministry of Education has started the process to establish a new education curriculum to provide youth with the best window of opportunity to overcome obstacles that have challenged their access to and transition within the education system.  However, focus must shift from improving grades to enabling young people to live positive and fulfilling lives; accordingly, comprehensive sexuality education must be incorporated into these changes.

Arguably, teachers will say that the responsibility of giving learners information about their sexuality, especially during puberty, solely lies with parents.  On the other side of the coin, parents leave this responsibility to teachers.  This ping-pong mentality therefore results in increasing cases of teenage pregnancy, the erasure of female bodily autonomy, the increase of new HIV cases as a result of ignorance, and higher rates of unreported sexual and gender-based violence.

When the stakes for adolescent health are so high, those who argue against the introduction of age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education can only be condemned as lacking an iota of goodwill to make our society better.  The fundamental nature of education is progressive; it changes with time.  As such, the argument that comprehensive sexuality education is a foreign concept that should be squashed must be dismissed, as it is contradictory of our African culture.  Didn’t we as Africans use to teach children about sexuality? The answer is in the affirmative. 

Many communities in our African set up would isolate girls and boys during puberty to prepare them with life lessons on how to handle the institution of marriage-an important rite of passage in African heritage. Girls would sit with their grandmothers and boys would shadow their fathers or members of a senior age set. All through this time, even after initiation, the African set up provided for a chance to teach sexuality education in its context.  Urbanisation should not make us forget the utmost obligation we have to our children.  There is no better way than to arrest their questions and curiosity than with appropriate and factual information. Forgoing this responsibility therefore means that children can turn to the internet where there is a high likely hood of misinformation.

Sexuality education is about empowerment.  A well-structured comprehensive sexuality education curriculum will keep girls in school longer, as it will enable them to delay pregnancy and their sexual debut to a later stage in life.  Boys, on the other hand, will receive information on how to manage respectful relationships with women, which will lead to a significant societal decline in cases of sexual abuse and gender-based violence.  Education is meant to solve the mysteries of life and bring sense to occurrences in our environment.  Adolescence comes with many questions that, if unanswered by authorities, will see answered pursued elsewhere. And we might not like how they are found.

On the global and regional policy front, Kenya has made bold commitments to introduce comprehensive sexuality education under the Committee of Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) platform and the Inter-ministerial commitment of Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) on Comprehensive Sexuality Education.  The current curriculum review window is our best opportunity to improve the quality of our education with a holistic worldview.  Our education should be focused on the academic, social, and psychological wellbeing of our children, and comprehensive sexuality education is integral to it.

 

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