As part of the DFID funded Girls Education Challenge Kenya, Education Development Trust commissioned research to understand the challenges faced by adolescent mothers within their community, home, school and as an individual. The research findings were used to inform programme leads in addition to those working directly with adolescent mothers and pregnant adolescents. This presentation will explore the findings of this research and explore the important role research and knowledge creation plays in the delivery of large-scale education programmes.
Adolescent mothers are among the most vulnerable and marginalised groups globally. In Kenya, 98% of girls who have been pregnant are out of school, with very few girls returning to formal schooling (Lloyd and Mensch, 2008; 1). For an adolescent girl (aged 10-19) pregnancy and having a child whilst at school often leads to harsh social sanctions and difficult choices that have life-long consequences. Dominant social norms can lead adolescent mothers to believe their personal difficulties are the result of their own individual decision making, opposed to the result of social inequalities. However, it is social inequalities and prevailing belief systems about girls which are, at least in part, responsible for pregnancy among adolescents, in addition to the struggles they face once pregnant and later as young mothers. Understanding the contextual power dynamics and barriers preventing these mothers from re-entering education successfully is therefore an important component of any programme seeking to improve girls’ access to education.
A qualitative approach was adopted in eight schools in Tana River, Kilifi, Samburu and Turkana counties. The percentage of women (aged 15-19) in these counties who were pregnant with their first child at the time of the research ranged between 2.6% and 7.8%. The highest rate of women who had ever had a live birth aged 15-19 was in Tana River, at a rate of 20%. A team of three researchers spent four days in each county collecting in-depth data from two purposefully selected schools. Multiple methods of data collection that included interviews, focus group discussions (FGDs), observation, photography and life maps were utilised. The overall sample was approximately 266.
The ecosystem surrounding these young mothers is complex, with a web of supportive systems in addition to persistent stigma and barriers. Among the supportive factors identified by the research were re-enrolment campaigns at a community level, childcare and financial support at a household level, and counselling, guidance and understanding at a school level, in addition to making arrangements for girls to breastfeed.
However, despite some promising evidence of support for these mothers, barriers persisted. Although awareness of re-enrolment campaigns was high, implementation was weak. In many of the schools visited, pregnant girls would leave school as soon as they found out they were expectant due to fear of stigma. Mothers also faced a series of challenges, such as food insecurity and lack of other basic needs, lack of emotional support from the father of the child, school levies, childcare, balancing parenting roles and schooling, social stigma and other challenges. The research also found a series of social, cultural and economic factors to predispose girls to teen pregnancy, including female genital mutilation, cultural beading, poverty and attending school with overage children.
Alfred Oduor, Communication Development Officer, Education Development Trust
Charity Limboro, Lecturer, Kenyatta University.
Daniel Karenga, Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist, Education Development Trust
Ella Page, Research and Insights Officer, Education Development Trust