Kibera is the largest slum in Africa, and is located in Nairobi, Kenya. 25% of girls aged 15–19 years have already given birth.  This high prevalence of early pregnancy can be attributed to a number of factors, including a lack of female empowerment and lack of education but its consequence are less ambiguous: these early pregnancies have led to approximately 30% of the girls dropping out of school in Kibera.

Traditionally, these girls are rejected by the community and driven away from home by their families.  Despite several efforts made by non-governmental organizations to bring support to the most serious cases of these teen mothers, the majorities of them are not helped, which sees many resort to sex work to generate income.

As someone who has worked in the Kibera slums of Nairobi to deliver Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights Programs, I have witnessed much struggle in such an environment and understand the feeling and importance of a stable and loving family.  My motivation to tell the stories of these teenage mothers is to call for more attention on the real lives and situations of this marginalized group and expand the discussion further to explore several other influencing factors, such as empowerment and education.

Lucy is 19 years old.  She gave birth to her only child when she was 17 years old.  She’s one of the many teen moms in Kibera with so much potential that has never been realized; instead, she is trapped in a circle of poverty, crime, and drug abuse. 

From the many Sexuality Empowerment Programs that I have been conducting in the slum area, I have identified a lot of issues.  Through this I was able to engage with some of the young people, and come up with ways on how to help young girls with information which will empower them to make informed choices about their lives and their future.

From my advancement with the topic, one of the girls invited me to share her story of her life and see how I could help her get assistance.

Her mud-walled house contains two wooden beds that kiss at right angles, and a solitary chair that perches adjacent to the door.  At one corner, there are bags of clothes, piles of boxes, and a crude kitchen set-up next to the window.

“Why two beds?” I ask.

“One is for my mother, and the other one is for me and the baby.  My mom doesn’t stay here, nowadays.  She got a ‘sponsor’,” She says winching her baby onto her hip, “I stay here with six of my friends.”

Sharon, 17, has two children: one-year old Herine and two month old Romain Shane.  She’s married to her long-term boyfriend, 22-year-old Terry.  Her first pregnancy was unplanned, as was the second, but she doesn’t have any regrets.  She was 15 when she met Terry, having been brought from upcountry to work as house help in Nairobi because her family had no money to send her to secondary school.

With two children already, Sharon doesn’t want to go back to school, but would like to join a vocation center and train as a tailor.  Her second pregnancy was met with a lot of criticism and gossip.  The stigma of going through not one but two teenage pregnancies will always be with Sharon but luckily she was able to receive the necessary support from her friends and family to overcome it.  By her second pregnancy she knew very little, and still had some knowledge gaps in terms of the best contraceptive to use and where to get it, so Terry’s sister, Valentine, took care of her until she delivered the baby.  Her doctor was shocked to learn how young she was, and that this was her second child.  She was promised a 10-year dose of family planning. The family planning method she was promised was the IUCD Coil, which is ‘T” shaped and has copper which works for 10 to 12 years. This prevents pregnancy, but needs check-ups as recommended by the doctor three months after giving birth, but she has been reluctant to use it as she says her body doesn’t respond well to it.

Sharon was still not aware of other available options which could be used for young girls, options which have little or no side effects. She said that most of the facilities show disdain to the young people who go in seek of services as well as for information on sexual health

Some of the contraceptive methods are available in most pharmacies as well as clinic-style facilities. For people Sharon’s age, the most preferred method of contraceptive are condoms, as the condom acts as dual protection and has little or no side effects.

Valerie, Helishia, Sharz and Salome all have children who are two-years old or younger, are single mothers, and live with their parents.  Valerie’s child is named after her mother whom, despite her distress that her teenage daughter had become pregnant, came to accept her and quickly fell in love with her grandchild.

“She used to say: ‘Go back to the person that made you pregnant,’ but nowadays she’s cool with it,” Valerie explains.  In 2018, her plan is to return back to school whilst her mother will be taking care of her little baby girl. 

It’s not common for girls to go back to school due to the stigma associated with it, but when the young girls are in a conducive environment, where there is love and care, they feel very comfortable with it. She was not sure what she was feeling; happy, afraid, nervous or scared of what was and is to come. She only hoped that she is going to have a good and smooth time in her schooling.

“I got pregnant at 19 years old, and gave birth in 2003.  When I realized I was pregnant, I was so ashamed that I could not tell anyone or even ask for help.  I was so embarrassed because I had so many dreams of bringing my family out of poverty,” says Nyambu, a young woman who uses her experience to touch and change people’s lives in her area. She was very bright in her younger years and wanted to be a doctor in her future life.

“The only thing I could think to do was to have an abortion, and to do it before my mother realized I was pregnant.  So, one evening I bought 30 paracetamol pills and swallowed them, hoping that the baby would come out.  That night, I was so weak that I thought I would die.  In the morning I was still sick, and I couldn’t go to school.  My mom told me to go to the hospital, and I did.  This is when she learned of the pregnancy. I could not reveal the identity of the father of my baby and so my mother sent me away.  I went to my sister’s house, who welcomed me even though her husband did not like the idea of me staying there.  I was so ashamed that I didn’t go to the clinic for check-ups, and I spent my entire pregnancy reading and sleeping, barely leaving the house.

“Eventually I returned home. By this time I was heavily pregnant and my mom was not happy; she left and went to a rural area for three months.  During my seventh month, I found myself alone and without money.  I started selling groundnuts on the roadside just so I could earn money for maternal bills and clothes for my baby.  Even with this work, I didn’t save enough to go to the hospital when it was time to deliver, so I gave birth in the house with the help of our neighbor, who was a midwife and charged me very little.

“The struggle continued after I gave birth.  When my child was two-years old, I wanted to go back to school.  My mom believed in me and paid part of my school fees; the rest I worked for to earn myself.  I used to go to school on foot so that I could save the transport fee that my father provided for my baby’s milk and soap.  In the evening I came home and breastfed my baby.  This was my routine until I finished my ‘O’ level education.  I didn’t perform that well, but at least I made my mom proud.”

Teenage motherhood is common in Kibera, and their stories are diverse: some are single mothers whilst others are separated, and some are married.  Regardless of their background, the stigma against these women is real.

Many people see teen mothers as a burden, and a bad influence on other girls.  Many teen mothers report feeling lonely, or subject to exploitation by men.  It can be a hard life, one in which it feels like they don’t fit into society.

I wanted to tell the story of teen mothers who have had children and survived, despite the many challenges they face.  I tell this story because I want the world – especially mothers of teen moms, and their daughters - to know that getting pregnant at a young age is a big challenge, and certainly not an ideal course for one’s life, but it is not the end of the world.

Being a teen mom is common in Kibera.

“I am now done with my education, and luckily I got a job,” says Nyambu with a smile, “I can afford to send my child to a government school, and can pay for the house we are living in.”

Most of the girls in a lot of slums do not have access to reproductive health information, and there are not many services to support other young people.  The Government of Kenya provides services, but it’s limited compared to the population.  This needs to change.  With the help of new non-government organizations setting up here, it’s a journey we want to be part of.”

 

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