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Urban life, the youth and sex; new study shows startling findings

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By ANGELA OKETCH
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Seven in 10 girls aged between 15 and 19, who live in urban areas, are sexually-active and many of them are not using protection, according to a new study by Research Plus Africa.

Adolescent sexual behaviour has been the subject of heated debate lately.

The new study comes in the wake of startling numbers of examination candidates who were found to be pregnant.

Commentators, politicians, government officials and policymakers have all blamed the runaway sexual activity among Kenya’s young people on poor parenting and declining moral standards.

Going by the new survey conducted by Research Plus Africa on behalf of Well Told Story, a youth NGO, there is need for a sober conversation around the sexual and reproductive needs of young Kenyans.

The study says 71 per cent of girls in towns are more sexually-active as compared to their male counterparts at 23 per cent.

This means that the girls’ sexual partners are much older. In rural areas, 23 per cent of girls had engaged in sexual activity compared to zero per cent of boys in the same age group.

Overall, the study shows that 65 per cent of the youth (boys and girls) aged between 15 and 24 are sexually active, and the curve has been going upwards since the first study in 2016.

In the first year, the survey revealed that 56 per cent in the age group were sexually active. This increased to 62 per cent last year and 65 this year.

The study titled “The State of Kenyan youth 2018” also revealed that for youths aged 20 to 24, females were more sexually-active at 40 per cent compared to males at 33 per cent.

“Sexual and reproductive health remains a sensitive topic among young Kenyans; modern contraception being strongly associated with social judgement and stigma, youth are forced to choose between immediate social disdain and long-term consequences of unprotected sex,” says the study.

The survey also revealed that inasmuch as the girls are sexually active, there was a low rate of modern contraceptive adoption. About 53 per cent of the group tried and dropped a contraceptive and only 29 per cent proceeded to use one every time they had sex.

Almost three-quarters of all urban adolescent girls either never tried using contraceptives or tried and stopped, resulting in a stark increase in pregnancy rates. Sixty-nine per cent of the females started a contraceptive and stopped at some point as compared to 43 per cent who consistently used a form of contraceptive.

Inconsistent contraceptive usage has led to an increase in the number of girls getting pregnant.

This is an indication that the girls were having unprotected sex, hence were at a greater risk to HIV/Aids infection.

According to data from the Kenya Aids Response Progress report released on Thursday, girls aged between 15 and 24 now account for the highest number of new infections. The group accounts for one-third of the 44,789 new HIV adult infections. In turn, this means 14,929 girls aged 15 and 24 were infected in 2017 alone.

This report corroborates the findings of the Research Plus Africa survey.

Mr Joshua Gitonga, the head of Monitoring and Evaluation at the National Aids Control Council said the rapid erosion of moral and social skills among the affected age group was to blame for the situation, especially in the cities where young women are dating older men for financial gain.

He said the group lacks comprehensive knowledge of HIV and do not access the prevention methods because they rely on guardians for their health information.

From the Research Plus Africa survey, the male condom was the most used contraceptive, followed by injectables. Daily pills were the third with emergency pill and implants fourth and fifth, respectively.

From the data, 66 per cent of the females were consistently using male condoms, 45 per cent injectables, 22 per cent daily pills, 17 per cent emergency pills and 13 per cent implants.

A conversation around use of modern contraceptives is critical because, according to the survey, among the sexually-active females, 69 per cent consulted medical professionals while 31 per cent consulted their boyfriends.

Among females who are fully confident about their ability to find and use contraceptives of their choice, an additional 11 per cent said they use them regularly.

Young women who believed that their peers were already using contraceptives accounted for an additional 42 per cent of girls who said they had turned into committed users.

Mr Nelson Otwoma, the executive director of the National Empowerment Network of People Living with HIV and Aids in Kenya (Nephak), said early sexual activity is known to increase the time adolescents are exposed to the risk of sexually transmitted infections or unintended pregnancies.

“Adolescents and young people also need access to comprehensive information on HIV prevention that can only be got from sexuality education, which should start in schools,” Mr Otwoma said.

He said parents need to play their role by monitoring their children knowing where they are, who they are with and what they are doing if they are not at home.

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