Friends Church Peace Team (FCPT) has been active in the communities on Mt. Elgon for nearly a decade. It is an especially vulnerable region with violence and conflict that is several generations old. These decades-old clashes have left many scars on the community, which include deep poverty and a low education rate. FCPT has made a huge impact in the lives of many here.
But now the people of Mt. Elgon are faced with two crises—the COVID-19 pandemic, and early pregnancy. Already ten high school girls in Chebuyuk were found to be pregnant and were forced to marry at that young age. Recently a 13-year-old girl, who struggles to survive as an orphan, was found in a maize field having sexual intercourse with a bodaboda (motorcycle) driver. He promised her 200 Kenya Shillings (about $2.00).
These are among the many unreported cases happening in the region. If thoughtful and serious measures are not taken at this early stage to flatten the curve of early pregnancy, many more cases may be reported by the time schools re-open.
Sadly, these increased pregnancies may be directly attributable to COVID-19. The measures the Kenyan government has taken to contain the disease—such as closing indefinitely all schools, churches, restaurants, and bars, ordering movement to cease in areas considered high risk, imposing a dawn-to-dusk curfew in the country, and closing borders—have contributed to the containment of COVID-19, but they have also caused hardship and unforeseen consequences.
In Mount Elgon, for instance, girl children are under threat from both the impact of poverty and increased pressure from boys and men to engage in sexual activity—at a time when there are few activities to keep young people busy, supervision is limited, and promises to provide food and supplies in exchange for sex appear to solve an urgent problem for girls facing hunger and increasing poverty.
Early pregnancy is on the rise. The underlying causes of this rise in early pregnancy and sexual activity are extreme poverty and poor awareness of health and sex education. Sadly, the aspirations of these teenagers to end their poverty cannot be realized because they literally can’t continue with their education after having a child.
Blame for early pregnancy often falls on girls. While girls sometimes share responsibility, this issue is not caused by the promiscuity of girls, but by the boys and men who are perpetrating sexual abuse. These young women and girls are some of the most obvious victims of the COVID-19 pandemic. Their ignorance about sexual activity and their own bodies creates an easy mark. One 16-year-old boy was found to have impregnated twelve girls in the Mt. Elgon region. Often when girls are found to be pregnant their parents force them to try to get money from the father—further stigmatizing them.
FCPT has a very good reputation in this region. There is a lack of trust of the government but FCPT gets called on regularly to assist. FCPT coordinator Getry Agiza states that she gets constant calls asking for her help. She says, “I receive so many phone calls from people who wish to just talk to someone, looking for a place to get hope, and also expecting a convincing answer as to when this will end.”
In addition to their long-standing emphasis on trauma healing and some recent feeding programs, FCPT has begun to offer classes for girls, classes for boys, and classes for parents to help each group understand their responsibilities, their options, and how to support their victimized children. Girls, some of them nearing twenty years old, are learning about how their bodies work for the first time in their lives. This education includes learning about menstruation and how to find sanitary products. They are empowered to say “no” and taught about a God who loves them no matter what they have done or who they are, and who provides healing to them in the midst of their pain and confusion.
In early August, FCPT held a forum for teenage girls to talk about health, sexuality, and dignity. The program was attended by 173 girls ranging in age from ten to twenty-six.
Boys are often just as uneducated. The internet and pornography provide their only “education.” FCPT strives to help boys and young men change their understanding about relationships and sexuality. Many of these boys have been abused and traumatized as well. They are responding to that pain in the only way they know how.
Please pray for FCPT’s leaders and facilitators as they strive to bring healing and peace to this region through sharing about the love of God, education, trauma healing programs, mentoring, and friendship. And pray also for the Mt. Elgon communities to find healing and security in God’s grace and care.