Why drug, alcohol abuse and risky sexual behaviour has become a norm among Kenyan youth
A group of teens assemble outside a popular Nairobi uptown mall looking all excited. They are about fifteen in number; boys and girls who are on their second-last holiday weekend together. From the looks of things, they are up to no good.
Half of them get into the shopping mall where they buy cigarettes and packets of condoms as well as assorted drinks. They then disappear into the basement of the building. It’s about 2.30pm and forty minutes later they resurface looking completely dazed. Clearly, they have been ‘smoking’ something.
Later they hit a club in the mall, a poorly-lit joint popular with the youth where they order for drinks, including alcohol. As alcohol takes it toll on them, they start to make out, kissing, caressing, the works. They couldn’t care less who is watching, or even what other revelers think of them.
The jam session
First, it was all about urban youth going for the Saturday jam sessions at Mad House, the launch pad for most Kenyan artistes back then, where teens would spend Sunday afternoon dancing to the latest songs and showcasing the latest dance moves, activities that would be the talking point among school friends once the holidays were over.
Back then, church holiday camps were one of the most popular holiday plans where teens would get spiritual nourishment as well as general counselling. For a week, they would be away from home enjoying time together at camp.
There were also church youth concerts where teens would assemble for gigs, singing and dancing competitions and even common knowledge testing drills.
Another common plot then was going ‘shags’ to visit grandparents and other members of the extended family. Drugs and sex was unheard of. But things have really changed.
“Going for youth camps is so old school. Why should I go sit somewhere for a whole week listening to gospel stuff that I might not in the real sense be interested in,” says, Nick Kyalo, one of the youth we caught up with in the mall.
“Life is short and one should enjoy it. School is very challenging and for us who are in boarding schools, the holiday season becomes the only time you can truly do what you like,” he notes.
“We save some cash from our pocket money and also do small income-generating jobs to raise cash for our enjoyment. That is how we afford to take ourselves out either for a movie or a little drink while on holiday.
Asked if he knows that alcohol and drug abuse as well as teen sex are bad, Nick says: “We all know that. We have heard these things since then. But who is a virgin anymore? Everyone is doing it. Sex is no longer a big deal neither is consuming alcohol,” he remarks.
According to a study, 42 per cent of young, urban males and 43 per cent of young, urban females have more than one sexual encounter before the age of 18. Six million American teens are currently sexually active – 31 per cent of females and 28 per cent of males. According to the same study, many teens used contraception the first time they had sex: 78 per cent of males and 85 per cent of females. Many also reported using contraception the most recent time they had sex: 93 per cent of males and 86 per cent of females used a method at last intercourse.
“I had my virginity broken on my 15th birthday. It was at a bash that my friends threw for me. They bought for me a ‘cookie’ (weed) cake and I also drank some alcohol for the first time and got real high. I decided to give in to a friend I had been dating for six months. Since that time, I don’t see why sex is a big deal. I think sex is exaggerated,” says Annette, a 20-year-old university student in Nairobi.
House parties, that are now common among young, urban youth are breeding ground for bad habits. Besides, teens are young, energetic and have nothing but time and this makes these house parties even more attractive.
“To organize a party at the house is easy. Invite friends and provide them with food and drinks, and provided there’s music you have a party,” says Kelvin Waweru, who admits to having hosted two house parties this month.
He adds, “The first time I had a house party my folks were away on a retreat but after getting caught I had to ask permission for the next one, which was a bit more controlled.”
Everything has its consequences and there are those who feel that the youth are smoking the wrong ‘grass’ way too much and engaging in risky sexual behaviour.
These are the avenues where things like weed cookies are introduced to the innocent. Campus ‘roomie’ parties are also good avenues for recruiting youths into sex and drugs issues.
“I think every girl on campus has had sex. Sometimes it feels a bit backward when you sit in a group of girls and everyone is sharing their experiences yet you are so clueless. Someone may dismiss that as peer pressure. Maybe it is,” says a college student.
Asked whether she is afraid of getting pregnant or contracting sexually transmitted diseases, she says: “We carry condoms just in case the craving strikes you at some point. Besides, I knew of family planning pills as early as high school. So, I can use the morning-after pill to prevent pregnancy.”
A lot of the time, the youth are on the Internet through their smartphones, trying to keep abreast with what is ‘cool’. Besides searching for new trends, one of the most searched subject is pornography.
Once the see stuff online, they move on to start experimenting. It is not only pornography that teens watch but also other aspects of life, among them Western pop culture, something that has contributed to a changing lifestyle among them.
Blogging is the other past time among youth in this generation. With the world having become a small village, teenagers share their holiday experiences and are now documenting their escapades for anyone who cares to give them the time of day
“Blogging is good. In fact, it can be a good source of a livelihood. But when young people decide to start posting nudes online, then that means this might also shift the way youth think as it now looks cool for guys to post nudes with sexual connotations. This is affecting the lifestyle of many young people,” says Michael Otuoma, a youth counsellor.
There are also the kids eager and fascinated by the environment and have a thing for nature either by choice or peer pressure. Majority of these ‘cliques’ have been thronging nature trails and reserves as new ways to pass time, be it with their church members, classmates or even family members.
“Immediately after closing school I visited the Oloolua Nature Trail, which was quite fun and a good way to keep fit. It’s a wholesome experience that you can talk about once you are back in school,” confides Natasha Muthoni.
“A lot does happen during hiking adventures but it all boils down to one taking responsibility. Unless someone forces you into sex during those outings, you are solemnly to blame for your own choices.
If the terms Oloolua, Karura, Mt Longonot, Ngong Hills and Mt Kenya ring a bell, then you are a nature trail lover, and most likely have bumped into scores of high school kids in their quest for an adventure.