Last week, Ministers of Health and Education from the East African Community (EAC) member state gathered in Entebbe, Uganda for a consultation meeting on the Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) Ministerial Commitment on Education, Health, Adolescents and Youth.
The ESA Pledge is a regional document signed by 20 African countries that have committed to scale up comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) and youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services for adolescents and young people of the region.
Kenya withdrew from the commitment last year. Yet the country continues to experience a spike in teenage pregnancies, sexual violence, unsafe abortions, new HIV infections and a lack of sexual and 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 pregnancies and teenage pregnancies are at 18%.
Despite this all too familiar situation, Dr Stephen Kaliti, Head of the Reproduction and Maternity Unit at the Ministry of Health, was quoted in the Daily Nation newspaper on April 21, 2022 saying that children should be allowed to be children and not be engaged. on sex.
He argued that healthcare workers ran the risk of being jailed if they gave out an underage contraceptive without parental consent. This puts health care workers at risk of imprisonment if they provide contraceptive services to adolescents.
Dr. Kaliti’s words are far removed from the realities we see on the ground. They also go against ministry guidelines with which we urge the physician to become familiar.
His claims also contradict 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 states that everyone has the right to the highest attainable standard of health, including reproductive health care.
“Anyone” includes adolescents who are sexually active. In addition, Article 35(1) states that every citizen has the right to access information and services held by the state. This includes information on sexual and reproductive health.
It is time for the Ministry of Health to recognize the lived realities of young people and provide reproductive health information and services.
The duty to provide young people with accurate, timely and effective information about their sexual and reproductive health does not rest solely with civil society organizations, parents, teachers and the church.
Policy makers, especially the ministry of health, need to develop and review policies that are free from religious bias. Policies must be developed based on evidence, data, research and the ever-changing lived realities of young people.
By refusing to recommit to the regional policy of comprehensive sexuality education in the East and South, the Ministry of Health has given young people no tools to protect themselves.
Currently, the ministry is revising the National Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health (NASRH) Policy. We have a message for the ministry: please stop politicizing reproductive health issues because young people are suffering.
Ms. Odhiambo is Program Manager at Youth Changers Kenya (YCK)
Email: [email protected]
BY JOSEPHINE ODHIAMBO