Playing Politics with Teenage Pregnancy, and William Ruto’s Stillbirth Directive

by kenyantaboo

Every time I am faced with a cryptic socio-cultural puzzle, I always refer to the teachings of my late maternal grandfather. Man of few words, a walking library, a towering figure of a resource. He always spoke in tongues, never giving direct answers when it was sought for. He loved answering questions with catchy soundbites, some of which can be picked from his descendants three generations down the bloodline.

One day I went to Uloma, Ugenya to pay him a visit. The retired jet-fighter pilot was grazing his rotund heifers just when I pushed the rickety gate. He had eyeballs that would look into the future so he noticed me two horizons away, let loose the tethered mammals, hid from my sight, then watched how I would handle the situation. It finished with a limping grandchild screaming his lungs hoarse cursing whoever wanted him dead. He slowly emerged from the woods, helped the cows into the shed, then, with a light pat on my back, whispered; “Never scare the cows when your intention is to attract the attention of the owner.” That is the day I learnt that you do not have to save a situation by first worsening it. And that is what Deputy President William Ruto did yesterday when he warned Chiefs that they will be personally held responsible for every teenage pregnancy case reported within their areas of jurisdiction.

William Ruto’s case is not unique. Whenever politicians take to the podium, whatever comes out their mouths is directly proportional to the number of votes in attendance. Most statements made from such gatherings sometimes have no  resonance to issues directly plaguing the masses. If they are, the manner of articulation is so deficient of facts it makes for painful listening. Even in the sewer, the cream rises to the top.

Teenage pregnancy is as much a political issue as it is a policy issue – both of which William Ruto is an able contributor and a strategic stakeholder. Policy and Politics have not enough firepower to bring down the teenage pregnancy scourge, however. Take the subject of Female Genital Modification, for example. Kenya outlawed the practice in the early 1990s with tougher penalties for whoever found in possession of FGM toolboxes.

Despite the efforts, Kenya’s FGM prevalence still makes for grim reading. In 2009, the FGM prevalence among the Kenyan Somalis stood at 98%, Kisiis 96% and Maasais 73%.

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Two factors largely contribute to the slow conversion of political directives into action – Common Sense and Cultural Insensitivity. I will not delve into the subject of common sense knowing that it is not common to everyone. Only to say that lack of common sense relegates humanity to the league of brutes.

Cultural sensitivity and awareness is a very important consideration few policy makers take into account while developing top-down ideologies intended for the the grassroots. So what are the facts?

In Kenya, teenage pregnancy and early marriages owe their proliferation to hastily crafted laws and a biased education curriculum which involves the government colluding with the church to exacerbate this organized mess. According to Duflo, Dupas and Kremer (2012);

“Primary school children in Kenya are not supposed to be sexually active. Girls who become pregnant typically have to leave school. The Kenyan government established a national HIV/AIDS curriculum for primary school with the assistance of UNICEF. Following the UNICEF-backed model, the planning process was based on extensive consultation within Kenyan civil society. Kenya is a religious society, and the Catholic church, protestant denominations, including very active evangelical groups, and Muslim organizations are by far the latest, most organized and politically influential civil-society stakeholders on this issue. These religious groups favored prevention messages focusing on abstinence until marriage, rather than condom use. The official textbook does not mention condoms or contraception. (Theoretically, condoms can be discussed in class at the teacher’s discretion or in response to questions, but the curriculum does not encourage teachers to discuss condoms)…” – pg. 6-7

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If the government identified teenage pregnancy as a disaster and made an attempt to reach out to school girls through the mainstream academic system, why, I ask, would they now turn their backs and reign in on the Chiefs – and not the teachers or parents? Are Chiefs responsible for monitoring and evaluating the curriculum and teachers work output? Does the law require Chiefs to be present at all dinner table family meetings whenever parents go through sex education with their children? Did the government shift the role of spiritual guidance from religious leaders to the Chiefs? Must the Chief be omnipresent in every mud-walled hut, withering Acacia bush, or drying riverbed to arrest those senseless men having illicit – sometimes forced – sexual intercourse with underage girls? Shouldn’t we be focusing on arresting the situation before, and not after, occurrence? Answer me Mr. Deputy President.

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