The women of Kenya’s arid and semi-arid north are born in an environment that is naturally harsh and un-relenting. The weather conditions the worst in the country. When it rains, if it ever does, it comes with deadly flush floods they are forced to bear.
Perhaps the worst of it all is when drought strikes with burning scorching sun that kills all the grass as it drains away all the water from the surface of the known watering points. Killing the source of life for both human beings and their livestock which is their lifeline – consequences: Death as has been reported for decades on end.
In drought, the women and girl child in this region are forced to trek over long distances through harsh terrain in search of water and firewood as men are forced to trek for equally long distances in search of pasture for their imperiled livestock.
For decades media outlets both local and international have been documenting tales of horror and death that people living in this region are forced to endure both times of drought and famine. Pictures of livestock which had succumbed to death, littering the scorched earth bereft of any grass or vegetative cover.
One of the most horrifying pictures to come from the harsh region was that of a helpless, famished, crying young child standing in a scorching heat from the sun as a vulture waited for her to die for it to feast on the child’s body.
A picture that galvanized the world that saw both local and international humanitarian organizations, the government and donor agencies to swing into action to save the lives of many whose lives were in peril – particularly women and children who were shouldering the brunt of the then famine catastrophe.
However, what many Kenyans do not know is that the country’s arid and semi-arid north is a land of surprises and wonders, for instance whereas other regions leaders are offering inducements to mothers to give birth to children because of the declining child population, that is not the case here.
As a matter of fact it has emerged that married women in Kenya’s arid and semi-arid north are the most active in child bearing, beating all other regions, including some that are much better endowed with economic and natural resources.
Statistics from the National Council for Population and Development (NCPD) clearly demonstrates that for the women aged 15 and 49 years old that is considered the child bearing age, women from this region as far their rates of giving birth is concerned, deliver children twice the number of that compared to their counterparts in the Nairobi region.
The Statistics document that on average women from North Eastern province will have six children during their periods of reproduction while on a comparative level, those of Nairobi will have only three children.
The women of North Eastern province are closely followed by those from Eastern province who according to the NCPD statistics tend to have an average of fouyr children in their reproductive years compared to their counterparts from the Coast province whose average is pegged at three children just like Nairobi’s average.
However the NCPD deputy director for public education, George Kichamu has a message of caution: “Of course there is no right or wrong number of children; it all depends on the choice of the couple or woman. The Children are indeed a blessing, but it is prudent for us to have the number we can afford to care for properly and adequately.’
Mr. Kichamu says that studies conducted by the NCPD had established that most pregnancies which were occurring in the country were not wanted by the mothers, with a majority of the women across the nation opting to delay their next births.
He says that although many of the women wanted to delay their next births or conceptions, they were lacking access to the necessary family planning methods to help them as a result of this lack of capacity to access these needs un-wanted pregnancies occur.
The director says that the country’s current population growth rate is pegged at 2.9 per cent in every year, and the country’s regions where women on average give birth to many children during their reproductive years play a significant role in Kenya’s considered rapid population growth rates.
He said: “The meaning of all this is the fact that in every passing year there is an additional increase of one million people to the country’s population which according to the 2009 census statistics was at 38.6 million.”
Mr. Kichamu says that at the national level the country’s women’s preference in the number of children to have during their reproductive years is pegged at an average of 4.6 children adding that the high fertility rates recorded in the northern parts of the country is due to the limited or lack of use of contraceptives that includes pills, injections, condoms – in all lack of access to family planning services or information.
The Kenya Demographic and Health Survey statistics indicate that out of 100 women only four are using contraceptives in the northern Kenya region which translates into the fact that a majority of the women folk in the region engage in sex without protective means of stopping pregnancies and hence the high number of child births recorded.
Comparatively the statistics from central region of Kenya where some politicians have publicly announced that they will be paying women cash rewards for every child delivered among other goodies the prevalence rate of contraceptive use is recorded at 67 per cent, hence the recorded low facility rates.
The ministry of education is also on record expressing concerns about this state of affairs in the Kenya region since enrolment of pupils in many primary schools was sharply declining in every schooling year, with some schools recording no pupils entry in nursery or class one.
KDHS statistics indicate that the other factors that influence the use of contraceptives and fertility rates among the women folk include the level of education, religion, access to reproductive health services, cultural practices among others.