On Tuesday, the department of basic education told Parliament’s portfolio committee on basic education that about 1 300 adolescent girls and young women were infected with HIV in the country every week.
The department further presented 2018 statistics by UNAids which found that 4.4 million adolescent and young women in South Africa were infected with the virus, accounting for 23% of the global average. There are 19.1 million girls and women living with HIV globally.
The startling revelations were made by the department’s deputy director-general, Granville Whittle, as part of the presentation on reducing teenage pregnancy in the country and the role the department is playing.
He further said that HIV prevalence among young women was four times greater than in young men.
Whittle also told the committee that, nationally, 30% of teenage girls fell pregnant, and that 65% of these pregnancies were unplanned. In the first quarter of 2021, 1 053 girls between ages of 10 and 14 fell pregnant, while 35 209 teenagers between 15 and 19 years old fell pregnant, according to the presentation.
On Sunday, City Press reported that, in the financial years from April 2017 to March this year, there were 14 176 girls between ages 10 and 14 who had fallen pregnant. In the same financial years, 496 683 girls aged between 15 and 19 fell pregnant.
These figures were released by Dr Manala Makua, the chief director of women’s, maternal and reproductive health in the national department of health, at a webinar convened by the Commission for Gender Equality on sexual and reproductive health rights.
Whittle said that the department had many programmes and several policies in place to assist with the issue of teenage pregnancy. Among them was comprehensive sexuality education that was age-appropriate and the role of which, among other things, was to ensure that children delayed having sex.
However, he also highlighted that some of the pregnancies happened because of rape. Whittle said 15.1% of girls experienced rape, sexual harassment, verbal abuse and/or bullying in schools.
Committee members strongly raised the point that, when teenage pregnancy statistics came out, the emphasis was always put on girls and not on the boys and men who have sex with these girls.
African Christian Democratic Party MP Marie Sukers said it was time that research was done on the behaviour of the boys and men who had sex with young girls, and that such behaviour was addressed by specific programmes that were focused on them.
ANC MP Nombuyiselo Adoons said that what was happening to some of the girls was a criminal offence, and asked what the justice system was doing about it.
In South Africa, the age of consent to have sex is 16 in terms of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act, meaning some of the pregnancies are a result of rape.
“Like a case of a nine-year-old, you ask yourself, how can a nine-year-old be impregnated? Who does that? What has happened to that person? These are questions that we need to ask ourselves and really deal with them because it is statutory rape; it is abuse of our own children,” she said.
Adoons said statistics showed the numbers of young girls who had fallen pregnant, but nothing was being said about the fathers.
“Who are the fathers? Where are they? What kind of a role are they playing? Who is supposed to monitor the participation of such fathers in the role, of not only the young mother, but also that of the child? Those are some of my concerns.”
Whittle said the education department had taken the policy on the prevention and management of learner pregnancy in schools to Cabinet for approval. The policy is one way the department is trying to prevent teenage pregnancy in schools. He said, once approved, it would be reviewed every five years to ensure relevance.
The aims of the policy include:
- Creating an enabling environment that supports all pupils and prevents discrimination and stigmatisation of pregnant learners;
- Prevention of pupil pregnancy through access to comprehensive pregnancy prevention information, and sexual and reproductive health services; and
- Offering care, counselling and support to pupils who fall pregnant through the Integrated School Health Programme, in collaboration with other partners.