GIRLS between the ages of 15 and 19 years old account for 11% of births worldwide. Of this 11%, almost all the births, 95%, are in low to middle income countries, South Africa included.
This is according to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) latest fact sheet on adolescent pregnancy. The WHO claims that teenage pregnancy is still a major contributor to mother and child mortality in addition to feeding ill-health and poverty.
Despite ongoing awareness and deterrent attempts by government and non-governmental organisations, teen pregnancy is still a major concern. Annually, about 16 million girls between 15 and 19 years old become pregnant while about one million girls under the age of 15 give birth. A further three million girl undergo unsafe abortions each year, according to the fact sheet.
A common misconception in South African society is that girls fall pregnant to make quick cash, in the form of government child support grants.
However, according to former Statistician-General Pali Lehohla, the idea that girls get pregnant to make money is unfounded.
“The evidence before us from 1998 to 2016 does not show that. It doesn’t show any increase in the proportion of teenagers who are getting pregnant, therefore dismissing that myth which is popular among parents, especially in rural areas,” said Lehohla.
A lack of education and viewing sexual intercourse as a taboo subject among parents is another large contributor to teenage pregnancy.
In a statement, Health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo said the department will continue targeting women and teenage girls to educate them about the benefits of abstinence from sex; family planning; and seeking early antenatal care for those who are pregnant. He also sounded a warning bell on the dangers of using traditional medicine (isihlambezo) to induce pregnancy.
According to the statement, it is believed that eight percent of pregnancies are from teenage mothers, but teenage mothers contribute 25% to the rate of maternal deaths.
“When people who are aged 13, 14, 15 are falling pregnant, it tends to have a lot of other consequences.
“Some of these girls even drop out of school and never go back again. Some of them are even getting infected with HIV and Aids while they are pregnant. So, we want to say that there is merit in delaying sexual debut.
“But for those who believe they are ready to have sexual partners, we really request them to visit their local clinic, because it is still possible to have a partner but not to fall pregnant.
“To those who are planning to fall pregnant, we welcome that. But they must not delay making the first visit to our clinics, and thereafter stick to the agreed-upon schedule,” he said.
KwaDukuza residents shared their views with the Stanger Weekly on the topic of teenage pregnancy, with many saying it is the responsibility of parents to educate their children.
A local teacher, who asked to remain anonymous, said parents send their children to school expecting that their teachers will give them the “birds and bees” talk.
“This is a common misconception among parents, that it is our job to teach their children about the moral compass in terms of engaging in sexual intercourse. Education about such things must start at home. We cannot build your child’s character alone.
“A solid upbringing will contribute greatly to appropriate decision-making as they grow.
“A child who is taught right and wrong, good and bad at home will gain from the supplementary information we provide at school, the technical aspects if you will. If you do not want a pregnant child then raise them so they know what is safe and what is not.”
Rene Pillay, a nurse by profession, said she has seen a great deal of girls come to her place of work having fallen pregnant or having undergone unsafe abortions and experienced complications.
“For many girls in this situation, they do not know what to do or how to handle the situation, so they panic and take frantic decisions which end up impacting them for life.
“An unsafe abortion can render a girl unable to reproduce and cause unbelievable damage to them both physically and emotionally. I really want to encourage girls to take proper precautions if they intend engaging in sexual activities and I want to encourage boys to protect themselves too. While pregnancy may physically affect only the girl, risks of sexually transmitted diseases affect both females and males.
“Parents and caregivers, please talk more openly about these subjects with your teens, it could make all the difference,” said Pillay.