In this blog, we share findings from a rapid literature review on supporting teen mothers return to school in Kenya. We explore the legal and policy framework, key barriers on policy implementation and possible paths to an improved implementation of the return to school policy.
Photo credit: Jonathan Torgovnik on Getty Images/Images of Empowerment
In Kenya, rates of teen pregnancy remain high, with close to 20% of girls aged 15 to 19 either pregnant or already a teen mother.1 The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated teenage pregnancy as schools closed and movement was restricted. Routine health services were also redirected to prioritise COVID-specific needs. Between January and May 2020, the total number of adolescent pregnancy cases recorded was 151,433, a 40% increase over the previous national average.2
Some 13,000 Kenyan girls drop out of school every year due to pregnancy.1 Most are unlikely to return,456 affecting their long-term educational, economic and health outcomes.7 In Kenya’s informal settlements, teen mothers are less likely to finish high school or university, less likely to be employed, and more likely to face food insecurity compared with women who become mothers after adolescence.8 Unintended pregnancy is the second leading cause of girls not returning to school post-pandemic after lack of money to pay school fees.9
Research has shown that when teen mothers are able to finish their education, it can cushion them and their children against negative long-term outcomes.8 The National Gender and Equality Commission (NGEC) is mandated to investigate compliance of policies regarding equality and non-discrimination. With the added urgency to support teen mothers in the midst of school disruptions caused by COVID-19, NGEC partnered with IDinsight to conduct a rapid review of the literature to inform how the return to school policy is actually implemented.
Kenya recognises basic education as a fundamental right and freedom.11 Every child’s right to basic education is enshrined in the Constitution of Kenya (2010) and ratified in several Acts of Parliament as well as key policy and legislative documents.7 The Children Act (2012) defines a child to be a person under the age of 18 years with a right to be in school regardless of their ethnicity, religion, sex, race, colour, disability, language or culture. Additionally, the Basic Education Act (2013) ensures that there is implementation of free and compulsory basic education for all.
Over the last three decades, the Kenya government has introduced two major policy interventions to facilitate school re-entry for teenage parents. The 1994 School Re-entry Policy for Girls provided guiding principles for educators, parents, and communities in support of teenage mothers’ return to schools.13 The policy requires school heads and teachers to unconditionally readmit teenage mothers into school. It specifies that if teen parents face stigma in their previous schools, they should be enrolled into a different school. Additionally, the policy recommends legal action against any adult that impregnates a teen and mandates counselling to be available for teen parents. The Ministry of Education in Kenya then introduced the 2020 National School Re-Entry Guidelines to facilitate and formalise teenage parents’ re-entry into learning institutions.
We conducted a review of seven papers that assessed school re-entry in Kenya for teen parents. We noted there are some methodological limitations on the availability of the literature including that there are non-representative populations, lack of quantitative estimates on prevalence, and with small sample sizes. Nevertheless, these papers provide useful insights into experiences of teenage mothers and parents. In the future, rigorous quantitative studies that more systematically examine the prevalence of school drop-out, re-entry, and associated factors could better inform policy making.
Key barriers identified to school re-entry for teen mothers in Kenya were:
Additional resources and clearer policy guidelines could facilitate a smooth return-to-school process and positive experience for teenage mothers. As such, the following recommendations arose from the literature to clarify the School Re-entry Policy and make guidelines more precise:
1. Make additional resources available to schools for supporting teen parents including: Accessible childcare services to support child parents; guidance and counselling services for teen mothers; and sensitization on the policy for teachers, parents, and students.
2. Develop and apply standards and systems of monitoring and evaluation to ensure the proper implementation of the School Re-entry Policy and protect child mothers’ right to education. While the 2020 guidelines call for collecting re-entry and drop-out data (Ministry of Education, 2020), it does not stipulate how often the data should be collected, or where the data should be submitted. Keeping track of school dropout and re-entry data will help the Ministry of Education to map the disparate implementation of the policy across schools and counties and provide targeted assistance to ensure teen mothers receive education.
3. Create awareness of the policy via: Media Campaigns, Policy Dialogues, Storytelling/Edutainment and Parents’ meetings. Media can be used to create awareness and sensitisation to the School Re-entry Policy amongst stakeholders. Beyond awareness, there should be clear pathways for child parents and their families to seek support if individual schools do not honour the provisions laid out in the policy. This includes providing information about whom to contact in order to escalate issues to the Ministry of Education, taking into account protection of the minors involved. Additionally, compelling narratives could be used to show both teens and members of the community that there are options for teen mothers beyond marriage once they become pregnant, including pursuing further education. Parents’ school meetings can also be used as forums to raise awareness amongst parents about the School Re-entry Policy.
4. Provide conditional cash transfers to teen mothers to help keep them in school. A Randomised Control Trial conducted in Kibera and Wajir in Kenya showed that conditional cash transfers effectively enabled teenage mothers to stay in school.44 Conditional cash transfers also show evidence of preventing teen pregnancy and being effective at reducing school dropout for girls more generally.454647
While re-entry policies and guidelines for teen mothers are key in supporting their right to return to school after pregnancy and childbirth, more steps need to be taken to actively ensure they can continue their education. The Ministry of Education needs to commit to providing more resources and services, and proper implementation and monitoring of the policy to realise the intended impact. IDinsight is planning to provide support to the National Gender and Equality Commission (NGEC) as it develops a policy advisory based on a rapid assessment of the Return to School Policy implementation and best practices. The policy advisory will highlight challenges and promising interventions for supporting teen parents returning to school.
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