In the past five months in the Free State, 150 adolescent females between the ages of 10 and 14 have given birth. Over 14 000 teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19 gave birth in the previous year, according to statistics from the provincial health department. Moreover, among women between the ages of 10 and 19, there were 2 100 pregnancies that were terminated.
A shocking 150 births of girls between the ages of 10 and 14 have been reported by the Free State Health Department in just four months. Even before the pandemic, based on the South African Medical Research Council, 16% of young women between the ages of 15 and 19 had started getting pregnant.
In urban areas, the percentage is 11%, whereas, in rural areas, it is 19%. The Thabo Mofutsanyana District in the Free State had the highest rate of teen pregnancies.Mondli Mvambi, a spokesperson for the Free State Department of Health, youth-friendly zones and clinics offer sex education to young people and promote family planning to prevent unintended pregnancies.
“We’ve got a high rate of children that are having children, from 10 years up until 12, from 13 years we see also up until 16 years children, the youth in teenage pregnancy.”
Accessibility issues for sexual and reproductive healthcare services for this vulnerable age group are a reason for worry, says Buyiswa Mpini, national program officer for the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
“Let’s talk to young men and men in general and ask what role can you play to protect our girls from falling pregnant, which is don’t rape our girls if you are engaging in relationships with our girls make sure you allow them to protect themselves. ”
Bukelwa Qwelane, director of the province’s Life Skills prevention program for the Education Department, acknowledged that rape and abuse frequently play a role in the high rate of adolescent pregnancies.
“You will agree with me that issues of social economic status render learners vulnerable to pregnancies where learners are being abused, learners are being raped. The number that we see definitely there are statutory rapes where learners don’t consent to sexual engagements.”
Teenagers are at higher risk for pregnancy, according to Sebabatso Tsaoane, an expert in reproductive healthcare.
“So in pregnancy what happens is that the women’s body has to cater to the need of the growing foetus so what happens in the case of a teenage pregnancy is the fact that the nutrients that are supposed to be used for the development of this specific teenager now have to be diverted to the growing foetus.”
Violence against women and girls is one element that has led to this, according to the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC). One in three women encounters gender-based violence in South Africa, while one in five children under the age of 18 experience sexual abuse.
The government’s agencies were urged to cooperate in June 2022 by the Minister of Social Development Lindiwe Zulu to combat the epidemic of increasing adolescent pregnancies. The minister was speaking to teenagers from KwaMbonambi in Richards Bay, KwaZulu-northern Natal’s region.
Roundtable discussions on preventing teenage pregnancy
Early this year, the Department of Social Development began holding roundtable discussions across the nation to improve the current child protection system and prevent adolescent pregnancy. The conversations, which started in Lusikisiki, Ingquza Hill District municipality, are aimed at districts in the four provinces of KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng, Limpopo, and the Eastern Cape that had the most significant number of adolescent pregnancies in the previous two years. According to Statistics South Africa, 34 587 teens gave birth in the country during the fiscal year 2020/21.
The Department’s acting chief director for child protection, Ms. Neliswa Cekiso, stated that given their mandate to care for and protect children, the high rate of adolescent pregnancies should raise some red flags. Teenage pregnancy is a complex issue that necessitates a thorough response, according to Cekiso.
The round table conference, which was attended by, among others, members from the Departments of Social Development, Health, Basic Education, the SAPS, and Traditional Leaders, agreed that a comprehensive strategy is required to address the problem of adolescent pregnancy.
In the meeting, Ms. Cekiso disclosed that 671 deliveries of children between the ages of 10 and 14 took place in KZN in 2019 and 661 in 2020. In the Eastern Cape, there were 671 deliveries of children aged 10 to 14 in 2019 and 661 in 2020. The Eastern Cape registered 17 211 15 to 19-year-olds in 2019 and 17 740 in 2020.
The National Department of Social Development has asked provincial departments to profile and assess the children so that adequate services can be provided, including investigation and referral to the South African Police Service (SAPS) in cases of statutory rape. This is done in order to ensure targeted interventions for the affected pregnant children. The Department has also been in touch with the heads of the basic education and health ministries so that national policies and programs can be assessed and enhanced. On February 17 in the North West, the Department of Basic Education introduced its policy on the management and prevention of learner pregnancy in schools.
Teenage pregnancies are a worldwide issue, but they tend to happen more frequently in less affluent and marginalized groups, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Many girls experience intense pressure to get married young and have children when they’re still young.
Factors that cause teenage pregnancy
The increased risk of early pregnancy is highly correlated with and influenced by a number of factors. These include peer pressure, sexual coercion, low self-esteem, low educational expectations, poverty, family dissolution, and increased sex-based messaging in the media. Other barriers to accessing contraception include negative views of health personnel.
Lack of understanding about contraception and numerous other misconceptions contributed to teenage pregnancies. Contraceptive pills were only taken when they planned sexual activity or only after the engagement because it may prevent them from becoming pregnant when used in that way. It was reported that injectable contraceptives induce weight gain and watery discharges.
Western Cape Making teenage pregnancy prevention a priority in schools
Over the past years, learner pregnancies in Western Cape schools have decreased from 2 880 in 2015 to 2 148 in 2017. Although the Western Cape Education Department is happy to see this drop, they are working hard to make it simple for all students to receive information on how to prevent pregnancy, the option to end the pregnancy, treatment, counseling, and support.
They are committed to preventing pregnancy or childbirth from interfering with or ending any learner’s access to education, with the assistance of the Department of Basic Education. There is still a need for increased awareness about adolescent pregnancies in schools, even though the Western Cape Province has the lowest number of teen pregnancies in the nation.
Jessica Shelver, Minister Debbie Schäfer’s spokesperson says many young people are sexually active. “While an alarming 79% of the 35% [who were sexually active] were not using contraceptives, learners indicated they were too embarrassed to go to a clinic, and contraceptives were dangerous and boring. It shows that more sexual education needs to happen.”
In a gazette published last year, the Department of Basic Education sought individuals and stakeholder organizations to comment on the National Policy on the Prevention and Management of Learner Pregnancy in Schools. The strategy aims to stabilize and reduce the prevalence of learner pregnancy and its detrimental consequences on the educational system by laying out its objectives, guiding principles, and policy issues. The policy specifically aims to make sure that students may easily obtain information on how to prevent pregnancy, the option to end a pregnancy, care, counseling, and support.
its promises to deliver Comprehensive Sexuality Education through the primary education system and other roleplayers (CSE). The government claims that this program offers “an age-appropriate, culturally relevant, and right-based approach to sexuality and relationships that openly addresses issues of gender and power and delivers practically useful information in a non-judgmental manner.”The government wants to make sure that pregnant students can finish their education, so it mandates that institutions of higher learning meet the learner’s reasonable demands.
What does the constitution say about teenage pregnancy?
The rights of children are fiercely protected by the South African Constitution, which is often recognized as the best in the world. This is demonstrated by the fact that Section 28 of our Constitution is devoted exclusively to children. Therefore, sexual activities committed on children violate this specific clause. The interests and welfare of children are also protected by law and common law. The Children’s Act expressly lists protecting children from any physical, emotional, or moral harm or hazards, including preventing them from seeing sexual acts, as one of its goals.
Sexual offenses against children are specifically addressed in Chapter 3 of the Sexual Offences and Related Matters Act. Laws punish sexual offenses such rape, forced rape, sexual assault, forced sexual assault, incest, statutory rape, and statutory sexual assault. If a juvenile is infected with a sexually transmitted disease, attempted murder charges may also be brought.