South Africa

PARLIAMENT

Schoolgirl births ‘unacceptably high’ in South Africa

(Photo: Unsplash)

The rate of pregnancy among school learners in South Africa ‘remains unacceptably high’, with more than 36,000 babies delivered to girls aged 10 to 19 in the first quarter of 2021, Parliament heard on Tuesday.

Nearly 130,000 babies were delivered to girls aged 10 to 19 in South African public health facilities in 2019. This figure increased to 136,386 deliveries for girls in the same age cohort in 2020, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) told Parliament on Tuesday.

Graph indicating the trend in teenage pregnancies in South Africa since 2017. (Screenshot: Department of Basic Education presentation on reducing teenage pregnancy in South Africa)

The data presented by the DBE deputy director-general, Granville Whittle, is from the Department of Health’s District Health Information System, but differs slightly from the data on teenage pregnancy presented last week by Dr Manala Makua, chief director of women’s maternal and reproductive health in the department.

Whittle said this was probably because of differences in dates in the retrieval of the data from the Department of Health.

Although the rate of teenage pregnancy in South Africa had been increasing year on year, the substantial “jump” in figures last year was mostly attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns, which resulted in learners being out of school for extended periods, Whittle explained.

Rape, child abuse and gender-based violence contribute to the rise in teenage pregnancy — the sharp increase in teenage pregnancies coincided with the surge in reported GBV cases during the 2020 hard lockdown, when learners were not physically in school.

Whittle says schools offer a protective environment to learners.

“For the most vulnerable young people, education remains lifesaving. Education is protective, schools provide spaces of support, nutrition and feeding programmes, psychosocial support and sexual and reproductive and health services.”

In the first quarter of 2021, said Whittle, 36,262 pregnancies were recorded among girls aged 10 to 19. Of that figure, 1,053 pregnancies were recorded for girls aged 10 to 14.

The DBE’s presentation to Parliament also showed that the Northern Cape has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy for girls aged 10 to 19, with 19.3% of girls in that age group giving birth between April 2020 and March 2021.

Gauteng had the lowest rate, with 8.9% of girls aged 10 to 19 giving birth between April 2020 and March 2021.

Whittle said the DBE’s strategies to reduce learning pregnancy in the basic education sector include:

  • Encouraging schools to report pregnancy, rape and abuse;
  • Improving the implementation of policy and guidelines;
  • Creating partnerships between government departments and civil society for a multi-sectoral approach to tackle teenage pregnancy; and
  • Reducing child abuse in schools through encouraging reporting incidents of abuse and implementing policies to ensure prevention.

The DBE had recently submitted a draft policy on the prevention and management of learner pregnancy in schools to Cabinet for approval, said Whittle.

“This policy will form the basis of how the DBE will continue to address teenage pregnancy going forward.”

The policy aims to reduce learner pregnancies through the provision of Comprehensive Sexuality Education, access to adolescent and youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services, and to ensure that girls are not excluded from school as a result of pregnancy and birth. DM

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  • Wow! An article about pregnancy and not one mention of men or boys!!! This is partly why this issue hasn’t and won’t be solved. Men should charged with statutory rape if girls are under age – any stats on this? And if men or boy’s parents had to take some responsibility for these children, then maybe we would see a reduction in teenage pregnancies. All the focus is on girls – shift the focus and use the law! Years ago during the HiV crisis. I encountered situations where boys were responsible for a series of pregnancies and just went on their merry way without any repercussions. A pregnant ten year old? It is horrific. Why aren’t terminations available?