Civil society groups in Nakuru have called for enactment of three Bills pending before local and regional legislative bodies which they said have been designed to curtail early teenage pregnancies and reduce HIV/AIDS infections among vulnerable groups.
Under the auspices of Nakuru Reproductive Health Network (NRHN), the lobbyists indicated that the Bills that touched on family planning, assisted reproduction and safe motherhood should be approved by respective lawmaking organs before current parliament’s tenure lapses.
The proposed laws include Maternal, Newborn, Adolescent Child Health Bill, Reproductive Health Bill and East Africa Community Sexual Reproductive Health Rights Bill pending before the Nakuru County Assembly, the Senate and East African Legislative Assembly respectively.
NRHN Chairman Martin Lunalo noted that though the Bills also advocated for protection of women living with HIV and those living with disability against abuse, every time they were proposed, some Kenyans, including the church, vehemently oppose them.
“The East African Community Sexual and Reproductive health (EAC SRH) Bill, 2021 prohibits harmful practices that include child marriage, sexual exploitation, and female genital mutilation, forced or coerced sterilization. If enacted into law it will be critical in ensuring that we are not losing adolescents and young people to harmful practices,” Lunalo observed.
The proposed regional statute added the chairman purposes to obligate each partner State to offer provider-initiated information and develop programs that include reproductive health care services for men such as screening and treatment of disorders of the male reproductive system including sexual dysfunctions, infertility and urological diseases.
Lunalo rebutted the Church’s interpretation of the Bills to mean that they impressed upon teenagers that sex is for pleasure and that they encourage abortion.
He added, “The church’s opposition, dictated by its position as the custodian of morality is understandable since anything that goes against biblical teachings is bound to raise its ire. The Bills advocate in part, termination of a pregnancy under special circumstances, like when the mother’s life is in danger, or when the child faces complications incompatible with life outside the womb. That part is in sync with our constitution that forbids abortion.”
The Maternal, Newborn, Adolescent Child Health Bill was drafted by The Kenya Legal Information Network (KELIN) and the Nakuru County Assembly Health Committee, while Reproductive Health Bill is sponsored by Nakuru Senator Susan Kihika.
Ms Evelyne Wairimu, Director to Octre Kenya, a reproductive health community based organization, noted that the New Born, Adolescent and Child Health Bill is aimed at ensuring access to quality and comprehensive provision of health services to women and children.
Ms Wairimu said if passed into law, every child will be entitled to free immunization and free annual medical check-up at any hospital owned by the county government.
The proposed law will also establish and support Maternal Mortality Review Committees at all public health facilities. The committees will be required to review every pregnancy-related death as well as develop recommendations to prevent future deaths, she added.
The Director observed that the County was facing an upsurge of teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections which could be addressed if the counties are compelled by law to commit financial, technical and human resources towards adolescent health care.
Ms Wairimu stated that there was inadequate allocation of funds towards reproductive health care services targeting the youth and adolescents. Low public participation in the county budget making process she said had led to missed opportunities in prioritizing reproductive health issues.
“We must face reality and acknowledge that teen pregnancies have risen exponentially, and the major reason that happens is that teenagers do not understand the consequences of pre-marital sex since the subject of sex is anathema in society. This lack of knowledge is compounded by teenager’s exposure to sexual content through the internet, films and lewd music but worse, lack of parental guidance,” she pointed.
NRHN Secretary Mr. Cosmas Mutua said the Bills did not normalize underage sex and if passed, would not open the door for children between the ages of 10-17 to receive and use contraceptives or procure safe abortion.
Mutua suggested that instead of poking holes in the Bills, parents, schools and the church owed it to teenagers to equip them with knowledge that would help them make choices from a point of information and knowledge.
County Executive Committee Member for Health Dr Gichuki Kariuki in a separate interview indicated that teenage pregnancies and HIV infections among youngsters had reached alarming proportions in the devolved unit.
He noted that in some sub-counties, prevalence of teenage pregnancies was higher than 18 percent adding that there was need to promote safe sexual practices and stop early pregnancies that deny girls social economic progress.
“The Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2014 for instance, showed that girls between the ages of 15 and 18 years indulged in sex,” Dr Kariuki said.
According to the World Health Organization, 21 million adolescent girls aged 15 – 19, get pregnant annually and were at a higher risk of adverse outcomes for themselves and their babies than women over 20.
WHO indicates that by addressing their unmet needs through increasing their access to modern methods of contraception and creating a supportive health care system, enabling policies and community environments for safer pregnancies for adolescents would prevent an additional 79,000 maternal deaths.
Secretary to Nakuru County Reproductive Health Network Nerry Mawere said the New Born, Adolescent and Child Health Bill sets up structures for mobilization of resources for health services and promotes healthy behaviours and practices.
“The aim of the drafters of the proposed legislation is to improve access and utilization of quality maternal health through evidence based intervention during antenatal care, providing respective care around time of birth, postnatal and postpartum care,” she said.
“It intends to leverage on existing local and national government structures, strengthen health systems both in communities and facilities and ensure availability, access and use of lifesaving basic emergency obstetric and newborn care services,” stated Mawere.
The Bill also focuses on providing Family Planning information and services to help girls delay childbearing, and to help women and couples to plan and space their pregnancies for improved health outcomes.
“We intend to anchor into law local delivery of family planning education and services, especially to adolescents. This can be done through training community health workers to provide a wide range of methods,” said Mawere.
If the Bill sails through, no pregnant woman shall be tested for HIV/AIDS without her informed consent. The County Executive Committee Member shall in conjunction with the relevant health care providers within Nakuru County also be required to regularly disseminate accurate and comprehensive information to members of the public about HIV and AIDS.
Such information will include prevention of mother to child infection and the options available to infected pregnant women.
Caregivers will now be legally obligated to ensure access to continuous and regular medical treatment of children born with HIV and to counsel pregnant women and their partners infected with HIV or suffering from AIDS.