KENYA: Giving young people the skills to say "No"

Photo: Kenneth Odiwuor/IRIN
Marching for abstinence
NAIROBI, 17 September 2009 (PlusNews) - Carrying placards that read, "Huwezi Die Uki Abstain", Swahili slang for "You won't die if you abstain [from sex]", more than 3,000 young people recently marched through Nairobi in an effort to re-energize the campaign to keep teens from having sex too early.

But beyond the placard-waving and slogan-chanting, march organizers were also trying to give young people the skills to avoid being pushed into sex before they are ready.

"When you talk to young people, they will tell they are ready to abstain and many of them desire to, but they just don't know how to go about it due to the pressure they experience from friends, the media and even from parents, especially for those in rural areas," said James Kabucho, programmes’ director at Life Skills Promoters, one of the NGOs which organized the march.

By acting out real-life scenarios, writing essays, and engaging peer educators in question and answer sessions, young people were able to talk about their experiences and learn to say “No” to unwanted sexual advances.

Negotiation skills

"When you teach them negotiation skills, you hope that they will [be] able to use these to get out [of] the pressure from every side of society to have sex," Kabucho said.

"I have learnt negotiation skills that will help me stand up to peer pressure," said Lillian Matagara, a 17-year-old student, adding that she was “chilling”, a euphemism for abstaining from sex. "Abstinence is cool, I tell you."

Research shows that early sexual initiation is associated with increased risk of HIV infection, while adolescents who engage in sex at an early age are likely to have more sexual partners than those who delay their sexual debut. Girls who engage in sex in their teens may also face the challenges of teenage pregnancy, unsafe abortions and dropping out of high school.

Between 1998 and 2003, the median age at first sex in Kenya rose from 16.8 to 17.8, thanks in part to the country's “Abstinence, Be faithful and use a Condom” - or ABC - HIV prevention strategy, according to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2003.

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However, many young people feel they are pressured into sex prematurely. A 2003 online study of 1,000 Nairobi secondary students found that 28 percent of girls and 20 percent of boys said their first sexual experience was unwanted.

"I think the biggest obstacle to abstinence among young people is that we have glorified sex to an extent that those who do not engage in sexual escapades are stigmatized," said Violet Kasivi, a teacher at a city primary school. "This creates a scenario where young people who have never had any sexual experience are confined to a life of silence."

“Survival sex”

Not all Nairobi youth believe the glorification of sex is the main reason young people have sex too early; 20-year-old Valerie* told IRIN/PlusNews “survival sex” was a common cause of early sex.

"What is the way out for those who are in it for the money, either because they are orphans or come from less privileged backgrounds?" she said. "When you go to the slums, many young girls will tell you sex for them is the easiest way to get money - they are not in it for fun."

According to Kabuchu, even young girls engaging in sex for money can also benefit from the life-skills training organizations like his provide.

"When the youth are empowered [with life-skills], then even those who engage in sex for money or for material gain are able to see the need to look out for alternative sources of income," he said.

(*not her real name)


Theme (s): Arts/Culture - PlusNews, Children, Education, Gender Issues, Health & Nutrition, HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), Media - PlusNews, Prevention - PlusNews,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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