OPINION: Address child labor link between Covid-19 and teen pregnancies


A 17-year-old girl who is seven months pregnant holds a doll at her home in ...
A 17-year-old girl who is seven months pregnant holds a doll at her home in Kibera, Nairobi. Photograph: Monicah Mwangi/Reuters

In Summary

  • In Migori, statistics from the local labor office indicate that over 20,000 underage girls have been lured or forced into commercial sexual exploitation by wealthy men in search of sexual satisfaction.
  • Adding to the tragedy, if these child prostitutes ever escape and find their way home, they are often stigmatized and rejected by their families and communities.
  • The situation has been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic which has left many parents out of a job and straining economically.

By Khadija Deyie 

As the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic makes its way into other counties beyond the ‘disease-infected area’, another epidemic is threatening to make a bad situation worse — child labor.

Also Read: 1 in 10 children globally is victim of child labor – UN

According to International Labor Organization (ILO) data, 152 million are young people who are victims of child labor in the world, 88 million being boys and 64 million being girls of the age 5 -14 years.

The latest census data revealed that 19.67 million Kenyans are in the workforce: 7% are children and 42.8% are youth aged between 18-34.

In Migori County, statistics from the local labor office indicate that over 20,000 underage girls have been lured or forced into commercial sexual exploitation by wealthy men in search of sexual satisfaction.

Adding to the tragedy, if these child prostitutes ever escape and find their way home, they are often stigmatized and rejected by their families and communities.

The situation has been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic which has left many parents out of a job and straining economically.

Apart from prostitution, a high percentage of underage children are engaged in maize harvesting, cattle herding, charcoal burning, brick-making and are housemaids.

Child labor is one of the hidden causes of teen pregnancies: 1,500 young women in Migori County are said to have been impregnated during the pandemic.

It is not uncommon to find many young boys and girls all over Migori town trying to implement their so-called ‘business ideas’ of selling ‘uhuru’ bags to people buying commodities within the town.

These children — who have nothing to sustain them in their homes or rather need money for themselves — have had no choice but to engage in these business activities as schools remained closed for almost a year owing to the pandemic.

Girls, who form a significant majority of these children, are often deceived by boda boda riders and other predatory men who give them a little money and end up having sex with them thus impregnating them at a tender age.

Migori is known for the late market-hour of 6pm – 8pm, when most people are buying their dinner supplies; but this has proven to be a particularly high-risk time for girls in the region, with many being waylaid and raped on their way home.

The children’s department and the health ministry can no longer afford to ignore this silent epidemic being replicated in other parts of the country.

Parallel to the various COVID-19 response measures, we need to also prioritize the welfare of children, especially young girls.

Economic survival can no longer be an excuse for subjecting young girls to sexual defilement and unwanted pregnancies which often means wrecking their dreams and ultimately their future.

Khadija Deyie is a youth advocate at NAYA Kenya in Migori County

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