Bathabile Dlamini | Teenage pregnancy: A complex crisis where girls are not just statistics

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Many young girls who fall pregnant don't return to school, writes the author. (File)
Many young girls who fall pregnant don't return to school, writes the author. (File)
PHOTO: Getty/Gallo Images

Bathabile Dlamini writes that the serious challenge of teenage pregnancy is not new and needs a societal and humane approach to eradicate it.

As we were closing women’s month 2021, the headline of a national publication screamed of the crisis we have as a country.

The crisis of teenage pregnancy.

Indeed, it is a crisis, but it is one that was identified a long time ago by the national department of social development.

For example, in 2014, when visiting Bulwer community in KwaZulu-Natal, the department highlighted the prevalence of teenage pregnancy in the area.

The department had been invited to Bulwer to speak about teenage pregnancy.

Then already, it was pointed out that the Statistics South Africa’s 2013 Household Survey Report revealed that nearly 8 percent of school-going age were not attending school because they were pregnant.

These girls’ pregnancies often led to the girls dropping out of school.

READ | Mondli Makhanya: Teen pregnancy is not a matter for seasonal outrage

Again, in 2016, we visited Peddie in the Eastern Cape for an imbizo and again to address the severe challenge of teenage pregnancy.

In Peddie, in particular, the community said that girls aged between 13 and 19 were falling pregnant and that they often engaged in unprotected sexual activities after having abused alcohol.

Alarmism will not assist

The recent statistics show that not much has changed since the department's visit to Peddie five years ago and the visit to Bulwer seven years ago. 

Among other statistics released to the Commission for Gender Equity, some of the most startling statistics were that 14 176 girls between the ages of 10 and 14 had fallen pregnant. The figures showed that nearly half a million girls between the ages of 15 and 19 fell pregnant.

Indeed, there are several serious challenges that these statistics tell us.

Girls under 16 years cannot legally consent to sexual intercourse.

As already pointed out, these girls will then invariably drop out of school and these social challenges are often complicated by other factors such as substance abuse and poverty.

A response by society

In 2015, the department of social development released the National Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Framework Strategy, looking at, among others, teenage pregnancy.

The strategy sought to strengthen coordination and coordination between all stakeholders, including all spheres of government, non-governmental organisations, civil society partners, to improve the state of adolescent sexual and reproductive health and rights in our country.

READ | 1 in 3 pregnant girls, aged between 10 and 19, do not return to school, Parliament hears

The crisis of teenage pregnancy is indeed complex but we must continue work on eradicating this scourge from the face of our country.

Inequality between men and women remains a serious challenge in our country.

We know that this lies at the very heart of gender-based violence of any sort.

Therefore while poverty may exacerbate teenage pregnancy we must ensure that the girl-child is afforded the necessary dignity and respect.

This is where we must start in our response.

Respect needed 

While many have commented on sex education, this is secondary to the notion that our girl-children must be afforded the necessary dignity and respect.

Sex education, even among adults, means nothing when society in general and men in particular do not respect women and girls.

Gender-based violence and teenage pregnancy will not be addressed until inequality between men and women in our society has been addressed.

GBV and teenage pregnancy are but symptoms of a deep structural inequality that continues to be exacerbated by socio-economic disparities that persist in our country.

Needless to mention that the majority of these girls are black, poor girls.

Yet even more so, we must remember that these are not merely statistics.

Each one of the 14 176 cases is a just a child who now has to raise a baby – we are dealing with real lives.

If only our reporting would reflect this.

- Bathabile Dlamini is the president of the ANC Women’s League and the former minister of social development as well as the former minister of women in the presidency.

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