Keeping Kenyan Girls in School, Providing HIV/AIDS, Sex Education Could Reduce Future HIV Cases, Experts Say
Reducing the school dropout rate for girls in Kenya and providing adequate HIV/AIDS and sex education could reduce HIV incidence in the country, experts said recently, IRIN News reports. Rosemarie Muganda-Onyando -- executive director of the Centre for the Study of Adolescence in Nairobi, Kenya -- said, "Young people do not have the information they need, and the dropout rate, particularly for girls, is still too high." She added, "Dropping out of school ensures a life of poverty for these girls, and many of them also wind up HIV-positive because the male-female power dynamics become even more slanted against them."
In 2003, Kenya introduced no-cost primary school education, but an estimated one million school-age children still are not attending school. In addition, up to 13,000 Kenyan girls drop out of school annually as a result of pregnancy, and about 17% of girls have had sex before age 15. HIV prevalence among Kenyan women between ages 15 and 24 is about 5%, compared with 1% for their male counterparts, IRIN News reports. According to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey of 2004, educated girls were less likely to marry early and more likely to practice family planning. In addition, their children had a higher survival rate. UNICEF also found that uneducated girls are more likely to contract HIV, compared with girls who have had some schooling.
Kenya's Ministry of Education has an HIV/AIDS prevention and sex education curriculum, but no specific classroom time is set aside for it, which leaves schools and teachers to fit the subject in at their discretion. In addition, schools in remote, rural areas, as well as low-income urban areas, often do not have the resources or guidance to teach sex education. Christopher Barassa -- principal of Genesis Joy Primary and Secondary School in Mathare, Nairobi's second largest slum -- said that the school does not "have sex education or HIV education" because the government has not provided any material or training. Muganda-Onyando said, "Not enough teachers have been trained for this type of education, so children are leaving school with academic qualifications and not many life skills." She added, "One of the big problems has been the breakdown of our traditional African systems, where an aunt or grandmother was responsible for sex education ... people say discussions about sex are taboo in Africa, but this is not true. We lost those systems through colonization and modernization, and they haven't been replaced."
According to IRIN News, CSA runs programs aimed at lowering the dropout rate for girls by teaching them about sexual and reproductive health, including HIV. "The projects train teachers to impart life skills, create safe spaces in schools where girls can freely discuss the issues they are facing and foster mentor-protege relationships between older and younger students, so the younger ones have somewhere to turn," Muganda-Onyando said. The initiative has been implemented in more than 100 schools in Kenya and has had positive results so far, IRIN News reports (IRIN News, 7/25).