Media Coverage

Reuters: Kenya tackles poverty by sending teen mothers back to school

Christine Gathoni dreamed of becoming a doctor, not a patient, grimacing in pain as she pushed her baby girl into the world.

But boredom and frustration at her parents' inability to pay for her education led her to sex, pregnancy and motherhood at the age of 19 with only two years of secondary education to go.

"I was idle and my boyfriend asked me out," she said, looking pensive. "After a few weeks, I realized I was pregnant."

Two out of five 19-year-old women in Kenya are either pregnant or have given birth, with the highest rates among the poorest, according to government statistics.

Their parents often encourage them to get married to escape the stigma of being a single mother.

The persistent cultural belief that girls who have given birth are adults - who have no place in a classroom - also means that as many as nine in 10 Kenyan girls who drop out of school due to pregnancy never return.

Gathoni, however, was determined to complete her education.

"If I had decided to get married, I guess life would have been unbearable," she said. "I hadn't totally lost hope in securing an education to save my family from poverty."

When Gathoni's baby turned one, her father brought a goat to Laikipia's Ilpolei Secondary School to pay for her re-entry.

Instead of accepting the goat, Gathoni's headteacher enrolled her in Jielimishe - Swahili for "educate yourself" - a program to encourage girls from deprived communities in the East African country to stay in school.

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