In the three way struggle to fit into a society that stigmatizes teenage sex, the Kenyan girl is being ensnared into the emergency contraception pill (e-pill) trap, as she continues to search for promising relationships and explore her womanhood.
If she is not scared that her parents may find out she is engaging in early sex, she will be figuring out how to please a boyfriend who refuses to use a condom, as society waits to corner and tag her a loose woman if found carrying along condoms.
The price she has to pay for this is the risk of catching Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and unwanted pregnancies due to irregular monthly periods caused by the prolonged abuse of the e-pill, according to experts.
It is a trend that for instance, continues to worry Agnes Naserian, a youth of the Nairobi middle class that is said to be well versed in reproductive health issues. In her case she has sought protection for emergency contraception twice.
The college graduate says fear of pregnancy and the fact that the e-pill can be easily purchased from a chemist is the reason she opted for this form of contraception after a weekend long of partying with friends.
“If I went to a clinic for alternative methods of contraception there was the possibility of relatives finding out private details about my life,” says the 22-year-old. “I could not choose the injection because of fear and the side effects said to be associated with it.”
It is a concern that is shared by many Kenyan girls, but to the hundreds of chemists retailing the e-pill, appetite for the drug is just what business needs to keep afloat in an economy weighed down by inflation and the Euro Zone recession.
For instance, random checks at chemists in Nairobi city confirmed that most run out of stock as early as Monday evening, suggesting that confusion over birth control among Kenyan girls is a situation that society has lost touch with.
It also confirms findings of a 2010 study that suggested parents are failing to properly groom their children on reproductive health, while the education system is yet to develop a school curriculum on sex education.
The study, published in the July edition of Journal of Youth Studies, indicated that slum teenagers are the most likely to carry unwanted pregnancies or be exposed to Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and HIV due to poverty and poor housing.
“There is a general disdain for the condom among the young generation,” says a private practitioner at the North Ridge Medical Clinic in Mathare slum. “The few bold ones request that I serve them with stocks of the e-pill.”
Caught between the need to keep business buoyant and the task of protecting the budding generation from the cycle of irresponsible sexual behavior, it is likely for such private medical practitioners to push on with their commercial interests in the full glare of the law.
This, according to Population Council, Kenya, is because the reality far exceeds the commercial edge, and goes beyond mixing forces of the society and research to develop a detailed sexual education system in the country.
“The problem we are seeing among teenagers today is because they lack opportunities for counseling on their sexuality due to a fast moving society,” says Samuel Kalibala, the Population Council Country Director.
“By the time they start schooling they want to experiment and in the process they make a lot of mistakes. But their first line of defense should be abstinence,” he says.
For a society where culture still influences the grooming of the girl child, it is easy for the older generation to continue believing in abstinence.
But details by the 2008/09 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) indicate that teenagers who have begun childbearing rose from two per cent at age 15, to 36 per cent by the time they are 19 years old.
At the same time, 5.8 per cent of teenagers between 15 and 19 years old are repotedly using emergency contraception, according to the KDHS.
There are some however, who still believe there is hope for the Kenyan girl.
According to Theresia Nandunda, winner of this year’s beauty contest held under the theme repositioning family planning among the youth in Nairobi, it only takes a little appreciation and passing of information for this generation to be weaned back into the family planning order.
“The Kenyan youth feels rejected by both the guardians and the society,” says the 24-year-old student of Makere University. “We only need to reposition family planning education among the youth to rescue them from the destructive forces of irresponsible sex.”
Perhaps, it is such information like, the e-pill is only prescribed for emergency situations that Dr. David Kiragu of Pumwani Maternity Hospital may have been trying to pass along, but failed to do so because of lack of structures of deissemination.
But even in stable relationships, he says, it can be used by post natal mothers who have not started on prompt family planning.
“They should however be advised to start on reliable methods of familly planning because the e-pill is not a long term solution,” says Dr. Kiragu.
It will be a test that the Kenya National Association of Parents (KNAP) will have to prove they can handle as dadline for the 2015 Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) inch closer amid doubts that Kenya is making progress on maternal health.
But KNAP secretary general, Musau Nduda, insists that the organization is doing its best to coordinate parents and promote peer education on teenage sexuality.
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