Kenyan Catholic bishops are warning against the introduction of comprehensive sex education in schools and the legalization of abortion as a way of curbing underage and teenage pregnancies.
The bishops' caution follows the findings of a survey which said more than 150,000 young girls had been impregnated during the coronavirus pandemic school closures. The incidents occurred during between January and May and affected girls ages 10-19, according to survey by Kenya Health Information Systems. Nairobi alone has recorded more than 11,000 cases, in the data reportedly collected countrywide through hospitals, provincial organizations and some of the children.
In a statement broadcast live June 21, Bishop Joseph Ndembu Mbatia, chairman of the Kenyan bishops' health commission, said, "We reiterate our belief that strong family values and personal responsibilities on nurturing and safeguarding children can go a long way toward eradicating or significantly reducing child sexual exploitation and the resultant teenage pregnancies."
Bishop Mbatia acknowledged COVID-19 had left children exposed to numerous risks, including domestic violence, alcohol and substance abuse, as well as lacking basic necessities.
"As Catholic bishops, we strongly hold that safeguarding all children is everyone's responsibilities," he said, while appealing to parents, guardians and caregivers to prioritize children's wellness and safety.
With schools closed, many parents in cities and towns are leaving their children alone in homes as they go to work or move in search of a livelihood. Some have sent their children to rural villages where the parents believe the children are safer from COVID-19 under the care of grandparents or other relatives.
Some Kenyans are questioning the pregnancy statistics, saying they could be a manipulated by organizations pushing for sex education. Some government officials blame pornography and lack of parental attention for the rising incidents.
The bishops have launched a countrywide campaign to collect 10,000 signatures to force Kenya to abandon comprehensive sex education commitments. The U.N. Population Fund defines comprehensive sex education as right-based and gender-focused approach to sexuality education, which includes information about contraception, childbirth and reproductive health, among other topics.
The bishops' immediate concern is a draft law currently before the Senate. Its proposals include legal and accessible safe abortion and adolescent-friendly family planning services.