Teenage pregnancy is not a new concept in South Africa. Despite a number of interventions from government departments such as the Department of Basic Education and NGOs like Love Life, the scourge does not seem to be abating.
On Sunday, SABC Online reported that the Deputy Minister for Social Development Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu said that the department discovered that there were a shocking 3 000 under-age girls who are pregnant or are mothers at the rural Ratlou Local Municipality, about 70 kilometres outside Mahikeng in the North West.
Early pregnancy has a number of adverse effects on girls, from health problems to having to drop out of school.
“Some of them [girls who fall pregnant] will drop out of school and of course that leads to a child not being able to get their matric and at the end of the day not being educated,” explains Cindy Sikhakhane, senior social worker at Childline South Africa.
Lack of education results in these young mothers not being able to find proper jobs to take care of themselves and their children, locking them in a cycle of poverty. Girls may also not be able to go back to school after having the child because having another child puts a strain on the family’s resources.
“At the end of the day, once the baby is here it is the parents of the teenager that will care for the baby… The parents have one more mouth to feed,” explains Sikhakhane
A report done by the International Business Times (IBT) on teenage pregnancy noted that children having babies can lead to a myriad of health complications and even death. According to the report, more than a third of all mothers who die during child birth are teenage mothers even though they only represent 8% of all births.
“Their pelvises are not yet developed and in many case they struggle to deliver naturally because their pelvises are still small,” according to King Dinuzulu Hospital obstetrics and gynaecology ward head Dr Jay-Anne Devjee, reports IBT.
Sexually transmitted diseases are also a risk for children who engage in sex when they are not well-informed about the dangers of being sexually active. Sikhakhane says this may complicate pregnancy.
“… when you are pregnant it gets more complicated when you have STDs because [doctors] need to ensure that they can treat you and (not harm the child,” Dr Devjee says.
In 2015, Statistics South Africa released a household survey which found that 99 000 underage girls were falling pregnant per year. The study was done between 2011 and 2014 and found that the number was steadily increasing.
Sikhakhane says there are a number of reasons young girls are falling pregnant at an early age. Some of these reasons include peer pressure and substance abuse, however the major one is that communities are reluctant to discuss sex with their children. “Most of the communities and families that are not open are our black families, and I am not proud to say that. We are not really open when it comes to talking about sex, it is very taboo,” she says.
“A child has to go out and find information from her friends and then at the end of the day they end up getting pregnant.”
Girls are more adversely affected by early pregnancy than boys. Sikhakhane says this is a direct result of our patriarchal societies. “When a boy has sex at a young age they are regarded as a hero, but when a girl has sex at a young age she is a whore, or a sl*t, so it is the society that we live in that has painted this picture. A boy who has more than one partner is also regarded as the man,” Sikakhane says.
Boys are also less affected educationally because they are able to continue going to school and are not affected by the stigma, she adds.
“The first step is to understand, who are the perpetrators, and… to also listen to the girls because we can’t judge them. As Social Development, we work with the children to be able to understand what happened, how it happened, and obviously, we have those that were cheated and those that were raped. So, each case has its own merits. We can’t be happy when our children are denied the rights to be children,” Bogopane-Zulu said regarding the North West teenage pregnancies, according to SABC Online.
Additional reporting: SABC Online, International Business Times