Teen pregnancies hit 99 000 a year

2015-09-06 06:30

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More than 99 000 schoolgirls fell pregnant in 2013 – a rate of about 271 for every day of that year.

This is a dramatic increase from the 81 000 pupils who fell pregnant the previous year and 68 000 in 2011.

The latest figures, released by Stats SA as part of its General Household Survey focusing on schools, have triggered something of a panic among education officials, who are calling it an “alarming crisis”. Due to statistical lag, the figures for last year are not yet available.

The SA Council for Educators (SACE), the department of basic education and Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi have labelled the figure a “crisis” and “unheard of”. They have re-emphasised the need for drastic improvement in sexual education and access to contraceptives such as condoms.

In response to this crisis, Lesufi said he accepted the blame for the programme of sexual education (part of the life orientation curriculum) not yielding dividends.

“We need a drastic review of [sex education] programmes. The entire social cluster of government should take the report seriously and do something about it.”

The report, he said, showed that parents were not guiding, supporting and monitoring their children.

“It is an alarming situation, and is unheard of.”

He said it would, however, be unfair, narrow and shallow to expect the department to deal with the problem on its own. “It’s a societal issue,” he said.

Department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said parents, guardians and schools should intensify education on the matter.

He added that statistics indicated that sexual debut happened even earlier than previously thought among young people. Without protection, that led to pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

“It is indeed a crisis that so many of our learners fall pregnant and their education gets negatively affected,” said Mhlanga.

He added that although there were measures in place to deal with the problem, the department was working on further strategies.

“The emphasis of the policy is on education, care and support for learners. One of the proposals in the policy is to make condoms available where necessary and under specific conditions, and this includes both primary schools and high schools. Statistics also show that even at primary school level, learners are falling pregnant,” he said,

He added that the department had published a draft HIV- and TB-management programme in schools.

Though most of the pregnancies would have resulted from sex among the youngsters themselves, the figures have once again cast a spotlight on teachers having sex with, and impregnating, their pupils. This offence carries the mandatory sanction of dismissal.

The SACE’s chief executive, Rej Brijraj, said last year the council found 56 educators guilty of different cases of misconduct.

Twenty-eight had their sentences suspended, 18 were struck off the roll of registered teachers for definite periods and 10 were axed from the profession.

Most of those who were axed or struck off the roll had been found guilty of having sexual relations and impregnating pupils.

Brijraj said many cases of teachers impregnating schoolgirls went unreported.

“The main reason some teachers get away with impregnating pupils is because they strike deals with parents and promise to marry the girls or pay them huge amounts of money in return for silence,” he said.

Lesufi, who was appointed to his position in May last year, said he had already dismissed a number of teachers who were found guilty of having sexual relations and impregnating pupils.

One of those schoolgirls who was pregnant in 2013 was a pupil at a high school in Stanger, KwaZulu-Natal. Her principal is the father of her baby. He is still a principal at his school.

A senior administrator in the education department in KwaZulu-Natal said the principal, whose name is known to City Press, remained in his job because he was a senior member of teachers’ union Sadtu.

“His punishment was having his salary suspended for three months. The girl was moved to another school in Umlazi.”

But the department denied knowledge of the principal impregnating the girl. Spokesperson Sihle Mlotshwa said “the case of impregnating a learner was never brought before the department”.

“We will have to investigate these serious allegations. What was brought before the department was an alleged relationship with the learner. He was charged with improper conduct. The learner didn’t give any evidence. [The principal] pleaded guilty on that charge and was then sanctioned,” said Mlotshwa.

In a similar case in Setlagole, North West, a principal allegedly impregnated one of his pupils.

However, no complaints were laid against the principal as he had bought the family’s silence, according to people close to the case.

A senior official in the education department in North West said: “The Public Protector also investigated the issue, but the family did not cooperate, because the principal was supporting them financially. A teacher at the boarding school, outside Mahikeng, said the principal would bring the girl into one of the servants’ quarters and sleep with her there. He actually slept with many schoolgirls there.”

The principal could not be reached for comment.

Mhlanga said society needed to deal harshly with adults who impregnated learners.

“There are cases where adult men target young girls.”

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