I have some good and bad news. Depending on which side of the fence you are on. The good news is, Kenya is not late to the party. The bad news is, it’s not such a fun party. A few weeks ago, Kenyans went crazy on the proposal to lower the age of sexual consent. Some are for it ,most though, are definitely not for this. The proposal was called by three appellate judges who, in their own words,said,”our prisons are teeming with young men serving lengthy sentences for having had sexual intercourse with adolescent girls whose consent has been held to immaterial because they were under 18 years.” The proposed new age is 16 years. Typically, a 16 year old is in Form Two by Kenyan standards. This is someone who is school, juggling books and at the same, expected to take charge of their sexual life. This poses quite the problem.
Long time ago, when our grandmothers were giggling beautiful and young girls, sex education lived. It actually existed. Grandmothers and elderly aunts would talk to young girls who were readying for marriage on all issues sex. It was a bit awkward for mothers to take part because then the girls would feel shy to ask some questions. Boys on the other hand would go through the same from elderly males in the community especially after circumcision. Essentially, they became men. And men were expected to get married. But what exactly did all this entail? These classes were like ‘open season’ in that there was no holding back. Songs, explicit ones for that matter, were used. Poetry praising the pleasures of the body were performed. Some communities even used clay figurines to demonstrate this subject we think taboo. In other bolder societies, young women were given phallic objects to practice with. What was the point you ask. African tradition society recognized sex, its place in society in continuing the family lines and most importantly, it mattered how young people viewed and approached it. And above all,it was understood that sex was sacred and basically what counted as acceptable sexual behavior. Most of them got married young. Girls, as soon as they got their first period and boys as soon as they were circumcised. Therefore, they knew what to expect and do when they got married. They had what most of us just stumbled upon, and unready at that. They had a roadmap. They knew what they were going to find right around that corner. They knew what to do when they hit a bump. And usually, they could go back to the elderly for clarity if things were not as they were told. There was that open line of communication.
Then in comes the white man. In Europe he used the chastity belt only to be confronted by open nudity. Women in animal skirts only would laugh their way to the river, their breasts flapping in the winds. The white man did not like this at all. Women back home were ‘proper’. They wore billowing skirts and high necked shirts that almost cut blood supply. His kind of woman was prude, kept her pleasures closely hidden unless he asked for some. No, this was brutish behavior. This was just encouraging insatiable sexual appetites and that was not acceptable in his newly conquered land. Something had to change. Alot had to change actually. He built our forefathers a church. To go to church they had to cover up, fully. They were converted, fully. No more moonlit frenzied dances at the village square were young people would wink at each other and arrange meetings at the river. Now they had to be staunch christians. No more of these open sex talks. This is how a prudish generation came to be. I mean, how will a Christian mother manage to talk to her daughter about sex and still be expected to chastise her on not saying her prayers on time?
We are not ready for this change. Society has changed alot. But we are still mum on matters sex. In school we are taught reproduction and only that. How many girls and boys experience confusion on their first encounter with sex? Alot. We simply know this goes in there, from movies and maybe books that we come across. We are not equipped on the consequences of having sex. The alien feelings that come with it. A little bit of guilt coupled with the excitement of discovery. It is hard to talk about it when in the first place there is no acknowledgement. Acknowledgement that yes, now you are a young adult. A young adult that is expected to think about sex and maybe practice it along the way. So how about we talk about it my son, my daughter? How about we talk about contraception and some teething problems involved in sex and the responsibility of it all. Yes, sex is such a huge responsibility. You are practically sharing your body with someone else and that is not something small.
Lowering the age is not the problem but are we ready to embrace the repercussions involved? These calls for a complete overhaul of the school curriculum. Sex education should be part of the package. Not just reproduction but all the nitty gritties involved. It would be real helpful if it started at home. We are taught most things at home even before we join school, why is sex not part of the package? It’s just a mystery that excites the discovery part in us. Maybe it’s time to bring some of the old back. Like the modern ssengas of Uganda who teach everything sex including HIV/AIDs, STDs and even abstinence,which is still an option.
I am sure the judges’ proposal come from a good place but are we ready for the consequences? Statistics paint a grim picture of Kenya’s young people and the need for adolescents to be protected from sexually exploitative relationships. Media reports of teachers preying on underage pupils are constantly on the rise. Approximately 20 per cent of all first antenatal care visits are of mothers aged 10-19. Even as our courts seek to readress this issue, it should be imperative that the law exists to guide and protect, in this case, the right to health and education of the targeted young people. Most importantly, as a nation, this is an issue that affects everyone and should be approached alot of finesse and wisdom.