The Bungoma governor’s call for legislation to ban pregnant teens from resuming studies would do more harm than good.
©Jonathan Torgovnik/Getty Images/Images of Empowerment
In Kenya, 15 percent of adolescent girls are pregnant or already teen mothers and every year, more than 13,000 of these girls drop out of school because of pregnancy.1 The Governor of Bungoma is calling to ban pregnant teens from schools, violating these girls’ fundamental human right to education and endangering their future. Evidence tells us that if pregnant girls leave school, they are more likely to suffer long-term negative outcomes – including poorer health and lower earnings in adulthood – compared to teen mothers who continue their education. While the Governor might believe that banning young mothers from school reduces teen pregnancy rates, there is no evidence to suggest that banning pregnant teens from schools is an effective measure to prevent future teen pregnancies. The opposite is likely true – declining adolescent fertility rates are correlated with more education, not less. Adolescents who have no education give birth at a rate three times that of adolescents with secondary education.2 The babies of uneducated mothers also fare worse. According to Lenhardt, et al., 2016, “The children of uneducated mothers are more than twice as likely to die or be malnourished than the children of mothers who have secondary or higher education”.
Similar legislation banning teen moms from schools has been called for in several African countries in the past. With the exception of Equatorial Guinea, most countries have reversed course. This includes Tanzania, which ended its ban on pregnant teens in schools in 2022.3 According to Human Rights Watch, at least 30 African countries explicitly protect the educational rights of teenage mothers – including Kenya. The School Re-entry Policy for Girls (1994) and the National School Re-Entry Guidelines (2020) clearly enshrine the right of pregnant girls in Kenya to continue their studies during their pregnancy and to return to school after giving birth. Banning teen moms from schools not only goes against these policies but undermines Kenya’s commitments to advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment. Such bans will have long-term consequences for girls, while leaving male counterparts (who may have also played a part in the pregnancy) largely unaffected.
Instead of going against Kenya’s policy on school re-entry, Bungoma’s governor should lean on evidence to inform more effective policies that would have a better chance of reducing future teen pregnancies, supporting teen mothers to break the poverty cycle, and give their babies a brighter future.
As the Governor noted, issues such as lack of access to sanitary pads and poverty drive the high teen pregnancy rate. Evidence-based Interventions exist to address these drivers. In a rapid literature review, IDinsight, together with the National Gender and Equality Commission (NGEC), identified the following interventions as effective: 1) Conditional cash transfers, especially during transition periods, reduce cases of child pregnancy; 2) Holistic multi-pronged interventions (which yield more positive results in preventing child pregnancies compared to single-pronged interventions); 3) Adoption of interventions that stress the risks associated with inconsistent family planning use and place a special focus on debunking myths; 4) use of co-ed interventions which target boys at a young age increases their knowledge and improves their attitudes about some sexual behaviours, and delays their sexual debut; and lastly, 5) interventions focusing on comprehensive sexual and reproductive health programs which have proven to be effective in delaying sexual debut, reducing the incidence of pregnancy and increasing knowledge on sexual and reproductive health.
I applaud the governor’s focus on this important issue. Indeed, teen pregnancy should not be normalized. However, by focusing on helping these girls continue their education (rather than end it), and utilizing evidence-based interventions, there will be fewer teen pregnancies and more educated young mothers who can stop the cycle.
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