She was forced to leave school to become head of the family

Young Lerato Dirulelo and her child at their home in Setlagole. Picture: Rosetta Msimango
Young Lerato Dirulelo and her child at their home in Setlagole. Picture: Rosetta Msimango

The residents of Setlagole village describe depressing cases of extreme poverty, child-headed families and teenage pregnancy

A one-and-half-year-old baby takes wobbly steps towards his family’s two-room hovel, shared by at least six people, with the eldest being his mother, who does not have an identity document and claims to be 19.

Despite his somewhat dishevelled appearance, he is wearing a neat low-cost nappy as he takes a few more unhurried steps.

But then he suddenly looks a bit tired; perhaps not strong enough to go any further.

He comes to a halt and stands there for a while until he lets go of himself, hitting the sandy ground with his backside.

The residents of Setlagole village describe depressing cases of extreme poverty, child-headed families and teenage pregnancy.

The toddler’s countenance is inscrutable, but one can pick up that he does not look like a happy child and he’s perhaps not much of a healthy one.

He remains on the ground without crying and is luckily still covered by the cool shade of a tree in front of the house on that hot Saturday afternoon in Setlagole village outside Mahikeng, North West.

Clad in a reddish woollen long-sleeve top, with his tiny feet in socks, he turns his head around as if he is searching for something.

He plays with his fingers close to his distended stomach, which could possibly be empty.

He is perhaps disappointed at not getting any attention, or could he be used to this?

No reaction was triggered; his mother remained calm as if nothing had happened, even after her baby dropped to the ground.

Young mothers

Lerato Dirulelo’s face is still awash with nonchalance as she stands under the tree, minding her own business.

She says she is 19 but has no identity document to prove it.

Her child does not have a birth certificate, which means neither of them is benefiting from government social grants.

Not far away from her stands another young mother.

*Mathapelo Modise is 16 and also a mother – to a 17-month-old – and they live together with their children and two younger relatives in the same house.

She was forced to drop out of school in Grade 7 when she became pregnant.

Modise is also yet to apply for an ID and a birth certificate for her child.

A while later, another young mother walks in and greets everyone. She is 17 and has a one-year-old baby on her back.

They all admit to being impregnated by older men.

According to the residents of Setlagole village, this is just the tip of the iceberg of depressing cases of extreme poverty, child-headed families and teenage pregnancy in their area.

The village is part of Ratlou Local Municipality in North West.

In Numbers
  • Total population: 106 108
  • Number of households: 129 000
  • Child-headed households: 459 (headed by children younger than 18)
  • Child-headedhouseholds’ annual income: 41% have zero annual income

Teen pregnancy figures

The municipality recently made news headlines when it was alleged that about 6 000 under-age girls were either pregnant or had already given birth, and that they were mostly impregnated by older men.

North West social development MEC, Boitumelo Moiloa, during a community meeting last week, refuted the figure.

She said she had since gone to the clinics in the municipality to get the numbers.

“There are, according to numbers from clinics, 487 of those who are pregnant or already have children. It is not a small number, it is too much and of great concern to us,” Moiloa said.

Residents who took to the podium to comment during the meeting expressed their concerns at the problem.

They also called for older men who sleep with and impregnate young girls to be brought to book.

“When a girl is impregnated by a boy her age, they are both scared. What more now if they are impregnated by older men? They are also in most cases threatened by these men not to tell the truth and say who the child’s father is,” said Setlagole resident, Maki Plaatjie.

A teacher at a local primary school said the problem of teenage pregnancy was severe and confirmed there were several cases at his school.

“We have child-headed families from where young girls would be targeted by older men. They would offer them money for sex and for them this is the only way to put food on the table,” said school governing body member, Kabelo Maine.

MEC for social development in North West, Boitumelo Moiloa

Kgosi Ramoloko said young girls were finding it hard to resist temptation and asked for families to stop protecting perpetrators preying on vulnerable children.

“If it is an uncle doing this to a niece, open a case and let the law take its course and stop concealing such incidents. Rape and teenage pregnancy are issues of serious concern, but how do we overcome them when we protect perpetrators?” he asked.

Meanwhile, police spokesperson Brigadier Sabata Mokgwabone said there had been 20 cases of rape in Setlagole alone since January.

He said seven of the victims were underage girls.

The municipal area

Ratlou itself is home to a population of just below 110 000 according to Census 2011 figures.

Parents and youngsters who spoke at the meeting last week complained of few employment opportunities and a lack of recreation activities and facilities to keep youngsters and children busy and away from bad things.

According to Wazimap, which provides access to South African census and election data, only 15% of the Ratlou population is employed, 11% are discouraged job seekers and 61% are not economically active.

Further, 19% of the population’s households have no income, only 2% have access to flushing toilets, 86% still use pit toilets and 10% have no access to toilets.

“Lack of employment drives children to bad things. A lot of them go to work in the farms from where they come back pregnant,” said local chief Michael Gontse.

Child-headed families and babies

At Dirulelo’s house, a door without a handle leads into a sparsely furnished room that could be some sort of a kitchen or perhaps a lounge, with two old broken couches.

A crusty pot and a plate on a small table by the corner bear the only sign that a meal was consumed there at some point.

However, it does not look as if that was from a day or even two days earlier, with the crust way too parched and loosening from the pot.

“Where is your next meal coming from?”

This is the question that changed Dirulelo’s face as she stood in the room holding her baby.

Suddenly, misery covered her face as her insouciant attitude evaporated.

We live from hand to mouth and it’s all about hustling. My child’s father is not supportive, but things are better now because I have a new boyfriend
Teen mom

Dirulelo may be 19, but this household, which is dependent on zero income, would arguably fall under the category of child-headed households.

Back to the question, Dirulelo kept quiet and Modise responded.

“We are forced to walk a distance to our sickly grandmother’s house to ask for some mealiemeal and to my father’s house to borrow a stove so we can cook. If not, then we go to bed on empty stomachs … we’ve got nothing and no one else to go to,” she said.

The two girls said their children’s fathers had abandoned them.

“We live from hand to mouth and it’s all about hustling. My child’s father is not supportive, but things are better now because I have a new boyfriend who is a bit caring and does help sometimes,” Dirulelo said.

Both girls chuckled when asked why and how they ended up pregnant.

“We were still living on our own. Actually, we were having fun, and this is where we find ourselves,” Dirulelo said.

“I am here, out of school and jobless; no ID and birth certificate and I have given up on ever returning to school as I now have a baby to feed and care for. I need help in getting my ID and registering my child for the social grant.”

She said she had last seen her mother in 2015 and did not know where she was.

“Life is not easy for young mothers like us,” she said.

Would you go out and fall pregnant again?

“I don’t think so,” Dirulelo said after a brief pause and yet another chuckle.

*Not her real name


How can older men with money be convinced not to entice vulnerable girls and leave them pregnant?

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