Social Issues

The Kenyan school where mothers bring their babies to class

By Patricia Martínez

Nyeri, Kenya, Feb 23 (efe-epa).- It is recess and a group of girls make their way from the classroom to the dormitories, where pregnant students grab some respite while others nurse babies.

Since January, the Serene Haven school in central Kenya has served as an oasis for teenage mothers of the so-called Covid generation.

“Most of the girls we are getting are the ones who got pregnant during the Covid period, even those with small babies were conceived during Covid lockdowns,” Kelvin Ndegwa, who co-founded the school with his wife, Elizabeth Muriuki, tells Efe.

As well as education, the new school offers a nursery service, psychological support and weekly medical checks.

Around 152,000 minors became pregnant in the first three months of Covid-19 restrictions in Kenya, which began in March last year, according to a survey by the national health system. That figure could have doubled since, given the closure of schools and the prohibitive cost of contraceptives in the country.

“Teenage mothers are denied education and education is a basic right, so that is the gap we want to fill. We consider ourselves human rights defenders,” Ndegwa says, adding that he expects to take in 100 pregnant students over the course of the year.

Kenya’s education ministry states that students who become pregnant should make a commitment to return to school six months after giving birth but the reality is stark — before the coronavirus outbreak, there were some 948 teenage pregnancies per day in the country and each year around 13,000 students dropped out of school due to stigma, an incompatible timetable or a lack of resources, according to government figures.

“People isolate pregnant girls,” Stacie, 17, tells Efe. “Maybe you had a group of five friends and then you start walking alone and end up being lonely with no friends and with no-one to talk to, to understand you. You can even get depression if you go back there,” the mother-to-be, who is five months pregnant, adds.

Serene Haven offers these students a safe space and provides them with time to nurture their babies.

Rose, 17, says: “Being here it’s very fine because my baby will be breastfed until I want to stop him, but if I went to a day school he would stop early.”

“The bond between the mum and the child grows,” the mother of a five-month-old child adds.

Rose’s case is perhaps the most common in her peer group — she became pregnant after having unprotected sex with her boyfriend. But others at the education center were victims of rape or were sold by their parents for a dowry.

The fact that unplanned pregnancies increase when schools are closed is nothing new, according to Lisa Bos, director of government relations at the NGO World Vision, who has pointed to Sierra Leone during the 2014 Ebola outbreak.

“Schools were closed for eight months during the outbreak and according to some estimates, teenage pregnancy rates doubled,” she said.EFE-EPA


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