The problem of underage pregnancies must not be viewed as a burden of the ministry of education alone.- Cabinet Secretary for Education, 19th November 2018
Why is this person in charge of the policy on education, the implementation of that policy, and the machinery of government responsible for the care and protection of children while in school? I listened with anger as the chairman of the Board of Directors of the Kenya national Examinations Council and the secretary to the Teachers Service Commission carry on from where their Cabinet Secretary had left off, laying the blame for child parents on their parents and on the children themselves. I ask once again: why are these people in charge?
Government and faith-based organisations, notably the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Church of Kenya, joined hands in the 1990s to fundamentally alter how children would be educated about sex. This has had profound consequences in the twenty-first century Information Age. Coupled with senior Government officials zealous pursuing conservative USA religious agendas that deny young people relevant information about sex, two generations of Kenyans, well into their adulthood, do not understand what sex is and how to deal with all the difficult questions associated with sex. As a result, not only are we witnessing a surge in child parentage, we are also witnessing a resurgence of HIV/AIDS among young people between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five, increasing cases of sexual harassment and assault, and rising cases of pregnancy and birth-related complications, including poorly performed terminations of pregnancies. In my opinion, we can trace a large portion of these problems to the ministry of education's capitulation to ideas, ideologies and political pressures that have handicapped young people in their education about sex.
The motto "education is power" is especially relevant to comprehensive sex education. The USA religious ideology of "abstinence-only" sex education has failed wherever it has been tried. It defines sex education with a view to its understanding in the 1980s or 1990s, and fails to account for the evolution of gender dynamics, cultures, social mores and other concepts such as affirmative and passive consent that have redefined how we situate sex in broader social issues. The Cabinet Secretary and her senior bureaucrats are clinging to ideologies that offer little help to our children in the twenty-first century.
The principal institutions that have the greatest impact on children are the family and the education system, primarily schools. Everyone acknowledges that parents are spending fewer and fewer quality hours with their children these days, leaving teachers, peers, young adults, mass media and social media to provide guidance on issues as old as time. Social media, and the internet in general, and mass media have, for the most part, distorted the sex into grotesque proportions, failing to provide information that, at the very least, empowers children and young adults to make healthy and safer choices. Schools, and teachers, have the best opportunity of helping children determine what is healthy and safe by sifting through the images portrayed on TV and Instagram and identifying unhealthy, unsafe and self-destructive tropes that often prove attractive to naive and ill-informed children.
Of course we realise that the blame does not lie with the ministry of education alone, but the fact that it has washed its hands of the debate, that it has refused or failed to push back against policies that have done more harm than good, places the bulk of the blame on the ministry. Ms Mohamed, Prof Magoha and Dr Macharia continue to do our children a great disservice by failing to address the dearth of relevant information required by our children when it comes to sex or adamantly refusing to consider policies that would ameliorate the life risks teenage parenting engender for child parents in the long term. For instance, there is no justifiable reason why supplementary national examinations cannot be organised for children who were out of school when the annual examinations are written by their colleagues. My preference would be for the abolition of national examinations altogether, but in the immediate term, it is manifestly unfair not only to place the burden of child pregnancy on the children and their parents alone, but also to deny them some sort of comfort that a supplementary examination would offer if it were administered in February or March of the following year.
We keep claiming that children are our future. The Children Act's entire ethos is built around the ethos of the "best interests of the child". Heck, Article 53 of the Constitution is exclusively about the child and the protection of the child. Ms Mohamed, Prof Magoha and Dr Macharia don't seem to realise this. They should either resign their offices or change their attitudes.