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To be a girl in the Viwandani slum of Nairobi, Kenya, means sleeping in a one-room shack with as many as eight members of your family. It means convincing your parents that your monthly school fees are worth struggling to save for. It means scrounging for rags or old mattress stuffing to fashion a sanitary pad so you can go to school during that time of the month. I am a health care educator who has spent a decade working with women and families in the slums of Nairobi.
When I meet with adolescents, as I did recently with a group of 75 in Viwandani, I talk about how to manage menstrual periods and the benefits of delaying pregnancy. On this particular visit, I was also there to deliver much-needed sanitary pads donated by girls' schools in the Baltimore-Washington area.
As I began talking with the girls, ages 11 to 15, they explained they already knew how to avoid getting pregnant. No, their strategies didn't involve abstaining from sex or using condoms. Here's what they said would prevent pregnancy: taking a hot bath, drinking hot water, jumping vigorously after sex, having sex in a standing position, or having sex when it is raining or in a swimming pool. Their answers saddened me. But I probably shouldn't have been shocked.
According to the Kenya Demographic Health Survey , the rate of contraceptive use is lowest among women ages 15 to 19, and 15 percent of them have already given birth. These numbers have contributed to alarming rates of maternal mortality: Globally, complications related to pregnancy and childbirth are leading causes of death among girls ages 15 to When asked why they and their friends engage in sex at an early age, the girls explained their beliefs that sex reduces pains from their period and that a girl is able to dance well if she's had sex.
They also mentioned hunger as a reason. When parents are not able to provide food or clothing, the girls can get these items from men in exchange for sex. This week, health leaders from around the world are meeting in Indonesia for the International Conference on Family Planning. One key part of the agenda is addressing youth reproductive health. As the program notes , there are more than 2 million adolescents with HIV, and one in 10 worldwide births is to a girl age 15 to Of course, many devoted people and organizations are already on a mission to address these issues.