Teenage Fatherhood. Social Construction, Vulnerability and Societal Implication in Western Kenya

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2020

11 Pages


Teenage Fatherhood: Social Construction, Vulnerability & Societal Implication in Western Kenya

Dr Dina Were

Kaimosi University College

School of Education and Social Sciences

Department of Foundational Education, Vihiga, Kenya


While teen fatherhood falls outside the scope of traditional norms, values, and expectations, it has become a serious social-health problem in Africa and Kenya in particular. Teen fathers are neglected by educational, social research and interventions, hence lacking in previous and current discourses on pregnancy, birth and childbearing, which has traditionally been viewed as a female affair. Drawing experiences from Western Kenya in particular Kisii and Vihiga counties, the study sought to understand how teen fathers, and parents’ perceptions and attitudes toward teen fathers influence vulnerability and policy implications in Kenya. The study used mixed research methodology to explore parents and teen fathers’ experiences and perceptions. The study used a questionnaire for data collection from the general population, interviews with parents and selected teen fathers. Data analysis was both qualitative and quantitative. The study found that teenage fathers are unacceptable in the society, deemed ignorant, careless, uncaring, and social deviants. The study revealed that the majority of teen fathers were unable to meet parental obligations due to unemployment, lack of parenting knowledge due to age, and educational obligation as most are still in school. The study concludes that becoming a teen father is a significant and critical life event manifesting developmental crisis. Teen fathers endure conflict of future role, accepting impending fatherhood and negative society perception towards them. The study recommends that interventions designed should consider incorporating teen fathers as a way of addressing their needs as well as mitigating against future teenage pregnancies. There is also need to create awareness to families and communities on the need for social acceptance of teen fathers and mould the victims to adopt acceptable behaviour and be responsible in the society.

Keywords: Teen fatherhood, Vulnerability, Masculinity, and Societal Implications

1.0 Introduction

In this study, a teenage father is an adolescent who is between thirteen and nineteen years old, who is a father and whose partner is also an adolescent. Masculinity and femininity studies have proliferated over the past few years among the international arena especially in teen parenthood. With the emergence of the concept of teen parenthood, it becomes complex in a society like Kenya, which is rooted in culture that depict teen fathers falling outside the scope of traditional norms, values, and expectations. Society constructs teen mothers and fathers as irresponsible, ignorant and a threat to the social order (Duncan, 2007). Teen mothers tend to be viewed as vulnerable, lone and morally suspect, while teen fathers are frequently considered to be absent, no use, criminal and social misfits (Johansson & Hammaren, 2014).

In the USA, for instance, fatherhood is unacceptable until a later developmental stage of adulthood, when a person has achieved stability through a long-term relationship and career. Though in American culture, the teen years and early 20’s are considered adolescence, which is categorized by freedom, identify formation, and experimentation (Ashford et al, 2006). As a result, almost 30% to 50% of children who are born to teenage mothers also have a teenage father (Stefanie & Lovegrove, 2011). Despite this, studies on the influence of teenage fatherhood on identity formation and child development is sparse (Hamilton, Martin & Ventura, 2009). This is even when scholars such as (Hermansen, Croninger & Croninger, 2015) recognize that the fatherhood role is meaningful and influential part of a child’s development, and yet less researched.

In Europe, teenage parents represent a particularly vulnerable group within the educational system presenting difficulties in continuing formal education and in accessing relevant training opportunities. These are significant issues for young parents and their children (McCashin, 1997). In South Africa, research on teenage pregnancy overlooks the involvement of young fathers (Swartz and Bhana, 2009). However, existing limited research cast young men as subjects of risk factor, vulnerability and negative outcomes who become uninvolved fathers (Enderstein & Boonzaier, 2012). According to Swartz et al. (2013), while coming from low socio-economic background results in becoming teen fathers, it may also lead to their being unable to support their children financially. The question is, is this the case in Kenya?

In India and China most of the adolescents, especially the girls are not supposed to look at or talk to boys as this might raise suspicion that they are initiating romantic relationships. Unwanted pregnancy spoils the family honour. Girls are taught not to play with, fight, or interact in any way with boys after puberty. Boys are instructed not to talk to girls or look, tease or rape girls. In many instances, where adolescents have done against their socialization, and due to the stigma attached to teenage pregnancy and parenthood, teenage parents often choose to remain unknown that they have children (Mangino, 2008).

Role Occupancy Perspective (ROP) by Knoester and Eggebeen (2006) reveal that parenthood is a set of roles, where men assume fathering roles according to the cultural and societal expectations of them. Reeves et al. (2009) point that for babies born to teenage mothers, about a quarter of young fathers are aged under 20. Strauss et al. (1999), in relation to this study’s focus, is the concept of ‘possible selves’ that represent an individual’s idea of what they may become in the future and the fact that transition to parenthood is an impetus for change in self-concept. When an adolescent becomes a father the visions of his possible ‘self’ may be abruptly altered. Cowan (1991) finds that developmental transitions in adulthood are long-term processes that result in a reorganization of one’s inner psychological sense of self. This may be more pronounced and more difficult for a male who becomes a father at such an early age without intent.

Developmental theory as argued by Lee, (1994) suggests that fatherhood is best exercised in adulthood when the developmental tasks of adolescence are completed. In Kenya for instance, many adolescents become parents at a young age, thus questioning their ability, preparedness and societal acceptance. Bade (2012) notes that young parents are faced with a shortened period of development as they need to cut short the time dedicated to individual growth, exploration and freedom as they face expectations of responsibility, sacrifice and commitment. We argue that one of the defining aspects of manhood is fatherhood, which has transformative power in the creation of masculine identity. However, most of the teenage mothers and fathers have been caught in a betwixt situation where they need to balance their parental roles, educational and societal demands (Papilia & Feldman, 2011). Enderstein (2016) argues that being a father during this stage represents major changes that make adolescent fathers vulnerable as they struggle to balance their needs and those of their children. Their situation is worsened by their unpreparedness to meet the ideal conditions for pregnancy and parenthood (Fletcher & Wolfe, 2012). From the existing literature, there is paucity of studies on teen fathers relative to research on teen mothers.

Tuffin et al. (2010) found that teenage fathers’ experiences are a neglected area of research, and where they do appear they are cast as risk factors themselves. The neglect of young fathers may stem from the now displaced view that fathers were irrelevant to the child's psychosocial development and/or from Western beliefs about the prime importance of motherhood. As implicated by Hendricks and Montgomery (1983), either way, teen fathers have been largely invisible or, what was known was often gleaned from accounts provided by teen mothers. Existing literature frames young parenthood in a negative light. Exclusive focus on risk factors and negative outcomes positions teen fathers solely as perpetrators of violence and enforcers of practices that place women at risk of early reproduction.

Most studies such as (Harrison & O’Sullivan, 2010; Harrison et al. 2001) fail to recognise teen mothers and fathers as equal actors in social systems of meaning, resulting in confusion as to why there is such a marked disjuncture between what teen fathers and mothers know and what they practice. Inadvertently, these studies do not take into account the ways in which the teens themselves participate in the construction of their identities (masculinities and femininities), and how they may reinforce or resist such social constructions (Mkhwanazi, 2006). For instance, Sharmistha, Xiayun, Chaohua, Rajib & Rebecka (2017) found that teens do not passively absorb and embody social messages they interact with others to produce their own form of gender identity.

We believe that although in the vast majority of cases, fatherhood during adolescence is unplanned and unexpected; many teen males achieve fatherhood status during their teen years. It is on this basis that the concern about the spate of teenage father absence and its effects on children's well-being be given a lot of focus in socio-cultural understand, policy guidance and interventions (Deevia & Nomvuyo, 2013). Contrary to the expectation, many interventions by governments, communities, international and national agencies and legal practitioners, target only teen mothers. Bunting and McAuley (2004), note that within the teenage parenting literature, references to the role of teen fathers are noticeably non-existent. This knowledge vacuum has, all too frequently, been jam-packed with myths and negative portrayals. For instance, Miller (1997) found that teen fathers are unwilling participants in their children's lives; Strug & Wilmore-Schaeffer's (2003) revealed that teen fathers are always absent, disinterested and unable to meet their father status responsibilities. With this information in mind, this study seeks to understand how teen fathers in western Kenya have navigated, or are navigating, the untimely vulnerabilities, role transition, and the barriers they have faced along the way.

In South Africa, Ratele, Shefer & Clowes (2012) argued that the absence of biological fathers has been constructed as a problem for children of both sexes but more so for boys and they are constructed as either absent or ‘bad’. In Kenya unlike the USA, Europe and South Africa, we lack evidence on teenage fatherhood. We argue that even though teenage fathers have deviated from the expected social norms, they are also affected by parenthood. This study aims to unpack ways they are affected and propose mitigation strategies to be employed. As Morrel (2006) opines, fatherhood can thus, be a goal for people consciously working to improve society generally and gender relations. This research comes at a time when Kenya is experiencing a lot of cases of teenage pregnancies. Our interest in this study is limited to social constructions of masculinity that contradictorily reinforce provider status, gender inequalities and male patterns of sexual entitlements within a context where teenage fathers are unable to achieve the cultural status of provider masculinity.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

Despite ignorance of fatherhood in previous and current discourses on pregnancy, birth and childbearing, traditionally viewed as a female issue, it is a serious problem in Africa and Kenya in particular. In western Kenya, socio-cultural and prejudicial factors specific to adolescent fathers also contribute to this neglect. Adolescent fathers are often unmarried during the time of conception and birth, and are generally excluded from participating in the pregnancy, birth and upbringing of their infants. Parenting studies mainly focus on the mother and baby who need support and help but neglect to think about the impact of fatherhood (Bornstein, 2012). Teen fatherhood is researched predominantly in terms of antecedent risk factors for teenage pregnancy (Pears, Pierce, Kim, Capaldi & Owen, 2005). It is important, therefore, to seek for an understanding of perceptions of people on teenage fatherhood with an in-depth analysis on their vulnerability, masculinity, and societal implications.

1.3 Significance of the study

Teenage pregnancy prevention programmes targeted at young women have received considerable attention from researchers and programme developers. However, to date, relatively limited information is available on preventing teenage fatherhood or improving outcomes for young fathers. Teen fathers are more likely to engage in delinquent and/or criminal behavior, to use cigarettes, drugs and alcohol, to deal drugs and to inconsistently use contraceptives, thus often fathering multiple children, potentially with different partners (Mollborn & Lovegrove, 2011). While teen fatherhood appears to be associated with similar consequences to those observed for teen mothers, most interventions serve teen mothers rather than fathers. However, recently, attempts to include young fathers in services have increased, but relatively few programs for young fathers exist. A notable gap is concerned with understanding the forms of sexual health programmes that are most effective from the perspective of teen fathers. It is essential that the experiences and perceptions of teen fathers be understood as this knowledge could be used to inform the design of appropriate support programs or measures for teen fathers as well as mothers (De Villiers, 2004).

2.0 Research Methodology

The study was conducted in Kisii and Vihiga counties of western Kenya using cross-sectional research design and employing a mixed methods methodology. The researcher explored depth of underlying social, cultural and psychological factors surrounding teen fatherhood. Understanding of issues related to their unique needs, beliefs and attitudes about fatherhood, including the underlying factors that influenced those beliefs and attitudes. The interrogation was done at three levels- community, the parent and the teen fathers. Although the researcher surveyed the general population over their perceptions and attitudes towards teen fatherhood, parents and teen fathers, were deeply interrogated for their phenomenological experiences interacting with the teen fathers. Questionnaire as a quantitative tool was administered to a sample of 384 respondents enlisted from the general population families and teen father, to determine people’s perceptions and attitudes towards teen fatherhood. Only 370 (96%) questionnaires were returned and were adequate for analysis. Twenty (20) key informants were involved; both parents and custodians of teen mothers and fathers, elicited information about the needs of teen fathers and the challenges they face in efforts to meet these needs. The questionnaire provided quantitative data that was fed in SPSS version 23.0 for both descriptive and inferential analysis of ordinal scale data on perceptions and attitudes towards teenage fatherhood. On Qualitative data obtained from the in-depth interviews. All transcriptions were coded using interpretive phenomenological analysis (IPA).

3.0 Findings and Discussions

Our assumption is that a male teenager in his role as a father has an impact on himself, his partner, and his offspring. Although research on teenage fatherhood is limited and flawed, it is important to understand this perspective from teen fathers own worlds in order to give better policy guidance to prevention and interventional programs. Morrell (2006) asserts that teens especially male often understand manhood as the time when they assume certain rights. In their desire to become men and pressured by peers to claim this status, boys may mobilise their sexuality and power over girls. The study started with understanding age range of teens’ engagement in sexual activities.

3.1 Age Distribution of Teenagers’ Engagement in First Sex

The study was interested in understand the age at which teen father first started engaging in sex. The results are as presented in figure 1 below.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 1.0: Teenage fathers first age of sexual engagement

Results from figure 1.0 above shows, the majority (70%) of the respondents indicated that teenage fathers’ first engagement in sex was between age 15-18 years. Few, 16% indicated 19-20 years while 14% indicated before 15 years. This implies that majority of teens started practicing sex between 15-18 years. An interview with parents and key informants revealed that boys start engaging in sex as early as grade 6 where most of them are approaching teenage hood and they are very active sexually. Majority of the teenagers also engaged into sex after cultural initiations such as circumcision.

3.2 Knowledge of Existence of Teen Fathers

The study further inquired from the respondents whether they knew of any teenage boy aged between 15-20 years with a child. The results are presents in figure 2.0 below.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 2.0: Knowledge on existence of teenage fathers

Analysis in figure 2.0 above reveals that majority (81%) of the respondents agreed that they knew teenage fathers among their community while 19% of the respondents were not aware. This implies that the phenomenon of teenage fatherhood was common in Western Kenya. For those who said they don’t know, it was evident that access to teen fathers is a complicated affair and takes considerable time even with the co-operation of gatekeepers. Quite often, teen fathers are unknown to agencies and are reluctant to be involved in studies and interventions for fear of blackmailing by the society as well as legal implications of under-age sex. This finding concurs with Reeves (2006), who asserted that once teen fathers impregnate girls, they cannot be traced and accessed easily, and have uncooperative attitudes. According to Ferguson and Hogan (2004) young fathers are hard to reach if teen mothers are reluctant to involve them during the pregnancy, birth and child upbringing, and especially if the pregnancy was unplanned.

Furthermore, due to the socio-cultural labelling, Kanku & Mash (2010) observe that both the teenage father and teenage mother fear losing friends who will not want to be associated with them, they fear losing trust from parents who will be disappointed by them for having children and yet, they are economically dependent, as well as unfit society and in formal education. The researchers concur with Weber (2012) that the task of being a father at an early age signifies a major change in the life of an adolescent, hence adolescent fathers face a unique set of challenges including stereotypes that label them as absent or uncaring, stigmatization associated with early parenting, isolation from peers and lack of needed support from family, friends, schools and interventions.

We find that such stereotyping that stigmatize teen fathers and label them as social deviants, may not help intervening the invisible social-psychological problems they may be undergoing. This compares well with a study by Quinlivan and Condon (2005) which reported that teenage fathers have ‘unrecognised psychological symptomatology and require services along with teenage mothers’. Though Daniel, (2004) finds that teen fathers are left to cope and deal with their emotions at a very crude level, alone.

3.3 Involvement in Pregnancy and Child Care

The expectation that society puts on a father is to become a provider for the family. In the case of teen fathers, meeting their financial presence in their children’s should be a priority. When asked if they would own up and take responsibility in case they impregnate a girl, the following results was achieved. Majority (86%) of the respondents disagreed while 14% agreed. Those who disagreed argued that in most cases, it becomes an obligation to support the child once born. This becomes difficult because of the financial situation of the teen father given that they are still in school and do not have any gainful employment. The study sought to understand teenage father’s involvement in their children upbringing as shown below:

Table 1.0: Teenage fathers’ involvement in children upbringing

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

* NB : This is a multiple response and each variable is out of 370(100%)

Analysis above shows that slightly above half 54% indicated that they are involved in children antenatal care to a small extent, 46% were involved in the post natal care to some extent, 41% were to some extent involved in child’s medication. Most 41% were largely involved in child education while a majority 77% were supporting the child financially. A good proportion (32%) of respondents provided child clothing to a small extent while 39% of the respondents provided for their shelter. The results reveal that majority of the teenage fathers were involved in financial provision of their children as compared to other forms of support. More results show that these fathers have little involvement in their children upbringing as they are not present in the child upbringing environment.

However, the analysis above also reveal that most 285(77%) of teenage fathers’ support to their children is economical as compared to emotional and physical relations. This being the case, the social nurturing role of teenage father was lacking. As Pruett, (2000) and Lamb, (2002) reveal even from birth, children who have an involved father are more likely to be emotionally secure, be confident to explore their surroundings, and, as they grow older, have better social connections with peers. On economic support, the findings of this study concurs with Swartz & Bhana, (2009) who found teen fathers facing negative consequences in trying to meet father role as their low socio-economic background and unemployment militate against a continuous financial support to their children. As Doherty et al. (2006) points out, there is an emphasis given to new fathers’ economic provider role and that there is ‘a socially constructed consensus that fathers should have a distinctive concern about the financial security of their families. In view of this study, this expectation brings with it the burden on the father to conform to these expectations as Glikman, (2004) asserts, this pressure in turn may lead to negative psychological effects.

Table 1.1: Teenage Fathers Taking Responsibility

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

* NB : This is a multiple response and each variable is out of 370(100%)

According to the results majority 85% will not take parenting responsibility because they are too young to be fathers 70% indicated that it would interfere with their education, 60% were avoiding arrest. It was found in some instances, the teenage fathers take up their responsibilities. The study sought challenges encountered by teenage fathers in parenting:

Table 1.2: Factors affecting teenage fathers parenting

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

* NB : This is a multiple response and each variable is out of 370(100%)


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Teenage Fatherhood. Social Construction, Vulnerability and Societal Implication in Western Kenya
social studies
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Teen fatherhood, Vulnerability, Masculinity, and Societal Implications
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Dina Were (Author)Peter Gutwa Oino (Author), 2020, Teenage Fatherhood. Social Construction, Vulnerability and Societal Implication in Western Kenya, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/585135


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