YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – Church leaders in Kenya are condemning allegations an international NGO administered hormonal contraceptives – including Norplant implants – to students at a Catholic high school without the knowledge or consent of their parents.
Marie Stopes International – a London-based NGO dedicated to providing access to “contraception and safe abortion services” – had been invited to the Archbishop Boniface Lele Secondary School in the Diocese of Kitui on October 11 to mark the World Day of the Girl Child.
The principal of the school said the group was recommended by the local government, were accompanied by county health workers, and were supposed to be speaking on general health awareness. He said he did not know about their pro-contraception agenda.
During the time the team from Marie Stopes were there, they were allowed to meet with the students without faculty or staff being present.
Students claim they distributed contraceptive pills, and also implanted several students with Norplant, a contraceptive rod about the size of a matchstick implanted under the skin, which is supposed to be effective for up to 5 years. The students are all between the ages of 14 and 17.
Harriet Owire, the team leader for Marie Stopes, said the team had only counseled the girls individually on birth control and refused to discuss the specific allegations that they distributed contraception to students.
Munanie Muusya told the Daily Nation her daughter had a Norplant device inserted in her arm, and she called on the government to take action against the organization.
“We are shocked that this was allowed to happen. What those people did will encourage our young girls to be careless and engage in unprotected sex. They can easily contract sexually transmitted diseases,” she said.
Father Julius Muthamba, the education secretary for the diocese, called the incident “scandalous and criminal,” and said he was demanding a full explanation from the school on how it was allowed to happen.
“The Catholic Church’s strong stand against contraceptives is widely known. It’s sad that this happened within a school we sponsor but more fundamentally the negative effect — spoiling the girls morally,” Muthamba told the Daily Nation.
Senator Enoch Wambua, the local representative for the area, said the issue was a “grave matter,” and said it was “unacceptable” that contraceptives be distributed to minors without the consent of their parents.
Wambua also pointed out that outside visits to schools were not allowed during the current school term, since the students are studying for exams.
He noted that even parents are not allowed to visit their students in schools, nor can government officials.
“I can’t visit children in schools to motivate them as they prepare for exams. But strangers are allowed into a school to administer contraceptives on minors,” the senator said.
He called on the Kenya’s education ministry to investigate the matter, and bring the perpetrators up on charges.
Although abortion is mostly illegal in Kenya, contraception is widely available and used, and even promoted by the government.
Statistics show that 66 percent of women in the country use contraception, compared to less than 20 percent in Africa as a whole.
Despite this, it is estimated 43 percent of pregnancies in Kenya are unplanned, a fact which has been the basis of a controversial social media post from Marie Stopes.
The message read: “Even if your boyfriend refuses to take responsibility for your pregnancy, do not worry, we got you.” Many took it as an advertisement for illegal abortion services.
Marie Stopes has been active in Kenya since the 1980s and is currently the largest provider of family planning services in the country and an advocate of changing the country’s abortion laws.
In 2012, the bishops of Kenya issued a statement lamenting the “drive by foreign agencies” to push birth control on the nation.
The statement was in response to a government plan to lower the birthrate in the country through the spread of artificial contraception.
Kenya was one of several countries that made the pledge at a London summit on family planning to mark the 2012 World Population Day, where governments around the world promised funds to ensure 120 million women and girls in poor countries have access to contraceptives by 2020.
“We cannot allow our country to be part of an international agenda, driven by foreign funds and by so doing, losing our independence and our African values of the family and society,” the statement said.
“We would like to remind the Government of Kenya that many countries, which took such decisions, are now regretting it with declining populations and nobody to consume or enjoy the much-hyped development. This obviously means that strategies were drawn to develop countries without consideration of the centrality of the human person, the reason for any development,” the 2012 bishops’ statement continued.
In 2014, the bishops’ conference began a two-year project to improve “maternal, neonatal and child health through enforcement of the pro-family Catholic ethics in health service delivery.”
The project aimed to strengthen the Catholic health sector in Kenya, and pledged to work with Catholic parliamentarians and officials to better coordinate their activities.