Improving Life Prospects of Young Adolescents Through Prevention of Early Sexual Debut

October 28, 2015


Justus Olielo



Delaying sexual debut has proven life time benefits. On the contrary, early sexual intercourse has been positively associated with negative consequences. This policy brief for the development of a comprehensive policy to address underlying causes of early sexual debut among young adolescents age 12-16 in Kenya.


Developed in 2003, the Adolescent Reproductive Health and Development (ARHD) Policy was the first in Kenya to focus on improving the reproductive health and well-being of adolescents and youth. New policies, guidelines and strategies have since been developed to strengthen and expand programmes available to youths, including; National Guidelines for Provision of Youth-Friendly Services (2005), National Youth Policy (2007),National Reproductive Health Policy (2007), among others.

However, none of these specifically address the causes and consequences of early sexual debut among young adolescents aged 12-16 years, particularly those living in informal settlements. For example, The National Youth Policy (2007) defines youth as being between 15-30 years.

Problem description

A majority of the population in Kenya is under age 20, and more than two out of five people are under age 15. According to the 2008/09 Kenya Demographic Health Survey (KDHS), 11.5% women and 22.3% men had their sexual debut before age 15yrs.

A 2013 study conducted by APHRC in two informal settlements in Nairobi found out that for both males and females aged 12-16 years, early sexual debut is positively associated with having permanently dropped out of school, having never attended school and having experienced severe family dysfunction. Lack of parental supervision was a predictor of sexual debut among males only whereas low aspiration was a predictor among females only. Participation in social groups, sibling risk behaviors, marital breakdown and violence, are also risk factors for early sexual activity.

Adolescents who initiate sex at young ages are more likely than those who do not to have multiple and concurrent partners, engage in unprotected sexual intercourse and acquire STIs, including HIV, unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions and permanently drop out of school.


  • Development of policy to address the underlying causes of early sexual debut among young adolescents age 12-16 years (with emphasis on adolescents living in informal settlements) in Kenya by 2015.  This will provide a coherent framework for addressing underlying causes of early sexual debut among young adolescents 12-16 years. Presently this age set has not been prioritized in other policy documents and strategic plans.
  • Prioritize initiatives to keep girls and boys in schools. Staying in school protects both males and females from early sexual debut by providing life skills education, improved life aspirations to university, employment opportunities and other life prospects.  Conversely those that have never attended or have permanently dropped from school are more likely to have early sexual debut, especially among females, than those who are in school.
  • Provide opportunities improve social participation of both boys and girls. Adolescents who reported participating in one or more group activities were less likely to engage in early sexual activities than those who were not similarly engaged. Other studies done in USA have also shown that participation in largely secular communal activities is protective against behaviors such as substance use, early sexual behavior and delinquency, by providing exposure to positive behavior models.


The policy should make provision for interventions that;

  • Focus on prevention programs ranging from fertility and reproduction to STIs, from relationships and communication to gender norms, culture and society
  • Support girls and boys to stay in school, including child friendly learning environment, prioritize life skills education programmes to target younger (12-16) age bracket, among other school based interventions focusing on young adolescents
  • Safe spaces and other opportunities to improve the social participation of boys and girls in community activities such as youth clubs, communal sports, events, etc. Improve parental supervision, guidance and mentoring, as well as
  • Provide budgetary and implementation guidelines and oversight at national and country levels

Call to Action 

Based on the aforesaid, it is critical;

  • The directors of children, youth and  social affairs set up a multi-sectoral Task Team to develop a  comprehensive policy for young adolescents ages  12-16, in Kenya by 2014
  • The minister in charge to develop a directive/guideline to be used by county governments to ensure all informal settlements have at a minimum, two  functional safe spaces, designated by gender  for use by young adolescents in this age bracket
  • Responsible principal secretary to provide budgetary and implementation guidelines to ensure adequate budgetary allocation to young adolescent programmes at county and national levels by 2015

By Justus Olielo, Population Council, Reproductive Health Program