Last week, Ministers of Health and Education from the East African Community (EAC) member state convened in Entebbe, Uganda, for a consultation meeting on the East and Southern Africa (ESA) ministerial commitment on education, health and adolescents and young people.
The ESA commitment is a regional document signed by 20 African countries committed to scaling up Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) and youth-friendly Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) services for adolescents and young people in the region.
Kenya opted out of the commitment last year. Yet the country continues to experience a spike in teenage pregnancy, sexual violence, unsafe abortions, new HIV infections and lack of sexual reproductive health information and services throughout the COVID period.
According to the National AIDS Control Council (NACC), Kenya recorded 45,724 cases of teenage pregnancy between January and February 2022 alone. Teenage pregnancy and early motherhood are at 18%.
Despite this all too familiar situation, Dr. Stephen Kaliti, the Head of the Reproductive and Maternal unit at the Ministry of Health, was quoted in the Daily Nation Newspaper of 21st April 2022 arguing that children should be allowed to be children and not be engaged on sex.
He maintained that health care workers run the risk of imprisonment if they give a minor contraceptive without consent from their parents. This puts healthcare workers at risk of imprisonment if they provide contraceptive services to adolescents.
Dr. Kaliti’s remarks are far removed from the realities we see on the ground. They equally go against the Ministry’s own guidance which we urge the doctor to familiarize himself with.
His assertions also contradict the National Family Planning Service Guidelines which states that; Family Planning service providers have a duty to ensure equitable access to services for all, including groups with special needs including adolescents and young people.
Article 43(1) of the Kenyan constitution stipulates that every person has a right to receive the highest attainable standard of health including reproductive health care.
‘Every person’ includes adolescents who are sexually active. Further, Article 35(1) states that every citizen has the right to access information and services held by the state. This includes sexual and reproductive health information.
It is time for the Ministry of Health to acknowledge the lived realities of young people and provide reproductive health information and services.
The duty to provide accurate, timely and effective information to young people on their sexual and reproductive health does not just lie with civil society organizations, parents, teachers and the church.
Policy makers, especially the Ministry of health must develop and review policies devoid of religious biases. Policies should be developed based on evidence, data, research and the ever-evolving lived realities of young people.
By refusing to recommit to the Eastern and Southern Comprehensive Sexuality Education regional policy, the Ministry of Health has handed young people no tools to protect themselves.
Currently, the Ministry is reviewing the National Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health (NASRH) policy. We have one message for the Ministry: please stop politicizing reproductive health matters because young people are suffering.
Ms Odhiambo is the Programs Lead at Youth Changers Kenya (YCK)
BY JOSEPHINE ODHIAMBO