Get real time updates directly on you device, subscribe now.
Sex has long been a taboo subject in Kenya. As the government, school officials, religious authorities and parents debate whether or not there should be formal sex education in schools, teen pregnancy and HIV are on the rise.
Sofia Atieno is just 16, , but she is already the mother of a 1-year-old son, Erastus Owino.
Atieno, an orphan, lives in Mathare, a sprawling slum of Nairobi, the capital, where she takes care of her son and her younger brother, Thomas Omondi, 13. She says her mother died when she was 7, and her father died in 2009, both after short illnesses.
She says she became sexually active after her father died. She was in the seventh grade. Atieno says her parents never talked openly about sex, a taboo subject in Kenya.
“How could he even start talking to me about sex?” she asks shyly.
But she says that his absence allowed her to become more promiscuous. The following year, 2010, she got pregnant and dropped out of school.
She says the father of her unborn child vanished, so she has had to take care of their son all by herself. She does casual labor in the slums to earn money, taking on odd jobs like doing laundry and cleaning.
She says the three of them survive on her earnings of earns about 200 shillings, $2.15 USD, per day. She pays 800 shillings, $8.60 USD, to rent a tiny room in the slum.
Atieno didn’t receive sex education in school. She says sexual matters are not talked about openly here because it is considered an “immoral topic,” according to the religious teachings administered during Christian religious education, which is taught within the school curriculum.
“I lost my virginity when I was 13, even though I knew nothing much about sex,” she says with her eyes fixed on the ground.
While sex remains a taboo topic in Kenyan and African society as a whole, the increasing rates of HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections, STIs, and teenage pregnancies have prompted teachers to call for formal sex education in schools.
Last month, about 150 students from Fish High School in Kenya’s Coast province were forced to go home after contracting an STI that spread like bushfire within the school, according to a report aired on a local television channel.
In response, nongovernmental organizations, NGOs, have tried to introduce educational programs in schools. Religious authorities vary on their view of sex education, but agree it should be approached with caution. As society slowly shifts its view, younger parents say they are more open to discussing sex with children than older parents. The government has not announced any plans to include sex education in the formal school curriculum, and officials tend to shy away from the topic