MTV Shuga has defended its decision to air a documentary on the lives of three teenagers who fell pregnant at the age of 16.
Social media was abuzz last week with viewers saying the station wanted to increase its ratings by exploiting the situation and airing the show.
Some described it as turning teenagers into celebrities and encouraging young girls to fall pregnant.
But, Gabi Mbhele, communications manager for Viacom in the African region said this was not the case.
“The point of the show is to encourage conversation about sexual reproductive health: from contraception to teen pregnancy and everything in between, and to ensure that our audience knows where to go if they need more information,” she explained.
“We worked very closely with our partners on the ground, Marie Stopes International, and Mothers2Mothers to ensure that the girls who took part were supported – and continue to be supported while the show is broadcast.
She said the show was “certainly not” for any commercial gain. The MTV Staying Alive Foundation produced the show with all rights cleared, and gave it to SABC1 to air at no cost to ensure the widest audience as possible was able to watch it.
Georgia Arnold, executive director for the MTV Staying Alive Foundation and also executive producer of the documentary, emphasised the same point.
“Sixteen and Pregnant highlights the many societal, economic and health challenges faced by pregnant teenage girls – from a lack of basic sex education to peer pressure, health problems, parental disapproval and unwanted responsibility.
“By highlighting the sacrifices they are obliged to make and the hurdles they have to overcome we hope to encourage them to take control of their lives and bodies by helping them to make more informed choices about sex, sexual health and contraception,” Arnold said.
The local version of Sixteen and Pregnant, which was a one-hour documentary, followed three girls from Rockville, Kliptown and Pretoria as they navigated the last trimester of their pregnancy.
Thato, Fanele and Nhlanhla shared their stories and the hardships linked to becoming a mother when they were still children themselves.
City Press caught up with Fanele Mthembu, now 17 years old, at her home in Kliptown, Soweto.
A young girl who dreamt of finishing her studies and getting into the media industry, Mthembu said the transition from being a child to mothering a child wan’t an easy one.
She told City Press that she regretted having a baby at such a young age but she loved her son.
“Before I had a child I would come back to school and go to the library until 6pm. Now, if I go to the library I have to make sure that I am back home by 4.30pm to ensure that I prepare my son for crèche the next day.
“I have to bath him the day before because we live in a shack and it’s very cold in the morning so I can’t bath him then.
"Sometimes I stay up at night because he is crying and have to attend to him and when morning comes I am tired but have to go to school,” she said.
Mthembu’s day begins at 5.30am when she baths and gets her baby ready. She drops him at the crèche at 7am and then rushes back home to put on her school uniform.
The 17-year-old knew about contraceptive before she fell pregnant but she didn’t want to do birth control because she had heard of stories where contraceptives could delay a woman from having children for years after stopping it.
Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi revealed that Gauteng had 4446 teenager pregnancies last year alone in all its six regions with the youngest being in Grade 5.
He tweeted last week saying: “We are not winning in our battle against teenage pregnancy within the schooling environment in Gauteng! I’m terrified,” he wrote.