by Siza Mtimkulu

Too young to play adult

The frightening state of teenage pregnancy in South Africa.

Teen Pregnancy:Research suggests that one in three girls had a baby by the time she was 20.
Teenage pregnancy in South Africa has reached alarming proportions. Research suggests that one in three girls had a baby by the time she was 20 and 16% of pregnant women under the age of 20 were HIV-positive. This renders the predicament something of a double whammy, as the pregnancy problem is linked not only with HIV, but other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) as well. And South Africa has 5.7 million HIV-positive people – the highest in the world.

According to research, about 40% of all pregnancies in the country involve girls younger than 19, and about 35% of all girls will have given birth before they reach that age. Of these pregnancies, 7% are among 15- to 16-year-olds and the remaining 93% among girls aged between 16 and 19.

Statistics from the SA Demographic & Health Survey (SADHS) show that there has been an increase in the number of teenage pregnancies when comparing the statistics of the periods 1998 and 2008. The numbers have almost doubled to 16% of the learner population being pregnant in some provinces. It is unclear, however, whether this increase is real or the effect of better reporting.

Speaking before Parliament recently, Hleki Mabunda, Gender Equity director of the Department of Basic Education, said that a study released in 2009 had shown that teen pregnancies were most common in communities marked by poverty, and where schools were under-resourced. Provinces that are noted to have a high prevalence of this are KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and the Eastern Cape. 

A number of factors are believed to contribute to this unfortunate situation – from biological to socio-economic. One report states that teenage pregnancy increases progressively from age 15 to 19, almost quadrupling by age 19, due to both biological and social reasons. 

An assertion is that biologically, an older girl is more attractive and she is more fertile than her younger counterparts, while she is beginning to succumb to more peer pressure.
A shocking revelation by the Limpopo Provincial Department of Health and Social Development is that teenagers are falling pregnant in order to access social grants to alleviate poverty. The statement was issued after the department conducted a three-month study into the disturbing state of teenage pregnancies and factors forcing children to abandon their education. It was further revealed that 15.5% of participants deliberately fell pregnant to access child support grants. 

Although teenage pregnancy in South Africa is mainly a problem in rural and poor areas, urban adolescents are at high risk due to the fast life of money, alcohol and drugs, which is consistent with urban living. In desperation to keep up with the fast life, young girls will often end up as prostitutes and therefore become pregnant and drop out of school. Often, they contract HIV and other STDs, given the multiple sex partners and abuse to which they are subjected. 
Studies show that between 11% and 20% of teenage pregnancies are the result of rape, and 60% of teenage mothers claim to have been coerced by men who were, on average, six years older than themselves.

The Planned Parenthood Association of South Africa conducted another study, indicating that one in five teenage fathers admitted to forcing girls to have sex with them; 30% of these forced sexual encounters resulted in pregnancy.

Of concern is that this disturbing reality threatens the socio-economic future of our country. Takalani Dube, the president of a support group called Women of Virtue, lists some of the devastating results of teenage pregnancy to the economy. At the top of the list is poverty. “Sixty-seven percent of families begun by a teen mother live in poverty, and 52% of all mothers currently on welfare had their first child as a teenager,” she maintains. “Perhaps this is because teen moms are less likely to complete high school, making it difficult for them to obtain higher paying jobs.”

The well-being of the babies is also adversely affected by teen pregnancy, as they are likely to suffer abuse and neglect given the level of immaturity of their teenage mothers. This ultimately leads to poor performance at school, making it difficult for them to graduate from high school and escape poverty which, in turn, breeds crime. Statistics show that sons of teen moms are 13% more likely to end up in prison.Interestingly, the business sector is hardly involved in activities geared at combating teenage pregnancy in South Africa. Only the government and non-governmental organisations seem to have made the issue their business.

The government has admitted that sex education is inadequate and it wants to improve the curriculum. Life orientation classes are being used to create awareness on the problem. “There was also a need to re-establish mobile clinics for health screening in schools, where health professionals – instead of teachers – would be able to identify pregnant
youngsters,” says Mabunda.
Siza Mtimkulu
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Issue 23


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