OPINION | Joseph Rasethe: Children giving birth cannot be our norm

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Teenage pregnancies are on the rise.
Teenage pregnancies are on the rise.

South Africans should be worried that this past Christmas and New Year period, there were 100 teens as young as 13 years old that gave birth to babies, writes Joseph Rasethe.

Unabated and alarmingly, South Africa continues to see a rise in teenage pregnancy, which is most notable across most rural provinces.

Teenage pregnancy continues to be rife in provinces such as KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, and Limpopo, according to a recently published article by the South African Medical Journal (SAMJ), with urban provinces such as Gauteng and Western Cape recording fewer numbers.

The report, titled: Teenage births and pregnancies in South Africa, 2017-2021 – a reflection of a troubled country: Analysis of public sector data, looks at how pregnancy numbers during the stated period among young, female children, between the ages of 10-14 and 15-19, increased exponentially as compared to the previous period.

Numbers increasing

The article states that during this time, which includes various debilitating stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, how the "number of births to young teenagers aged 10 – 14 years increased by 48.7% (from a baseline of 2 726, which is very high by developed-country standards) and the birth rate per 1 000 girls in this age category increased from 1.1 to 1.5. These increases occurred year on year in most provinces. In adolescent girls aged 15 – 19, the number of births increased by 17.9% (from a baseline of 114 329), and the birth rate per 1 000 girls in this age category increased from 49.6 to 55.6."

READ | Melanie Verwoerd: Teenage pregnancy and statutory rape: More must be done to put offenders in jail

The crystal clear result from the above is that the affected children eventually drop out of school, with most failing to return to complete their studies. This is largely due to the young mothers taking up the responsibility of raising their babies, in some instances with very little support from home, society, or their school. It's from this premise that most teenage mothers end up with no matric qualification, as they dropped off in earlier grades, and were never encouraged to go back and finish matric.

Access to medical facilities 

South Africans should be worried that this past Christmas and New Year period, there were, according to the Department of Health, 100 teens as young as 13 years old that gave birth to babies. This signals a deeply seated problem faced by our society, where young and older men continue to see nothing wrong with sleeping with young teenagers, and in some cases, denied good sexual and productive health, where they can decide on physical, mental, and social well-being and how they want to approach issues around their bodies, and ultimately safe sex. 

Continued and sustained education, which organisations such as loveLife have over the years prioritised, around concerns such as sexual rights should be the norm, rather than the ticking of boxes. Teenage pregnancy will continue to increase when more young girls are denied their constitutional right to make decisions when it comes to their sexual and reproductive health and well-being.

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Young women must be afforded an opportunity to make decisions when it comes to their bodies and futures – the prescription of what decisions they should take should be condemned while they are provided with the necessary support. While being assisted in understanding the pros and cons of teenage pregnancy, they should equally be given access to healthcare services and comprehensive sex education. The departments of health, education, and social development can certainly do better when it comes to these, with appropriate support from the private sector.

Criminal acts

A 10-year-old child should be in grade 4, with two more grades before they even reach high school, yet the SAMJ article points out that "the younger the girl, the greater the health risk, especially among girls aged 10 – 14." Studies have found that early childbearing, particularly by teenagers and young women who have not completed school, has a significant impact on the education outcomes of both the mother and child, and is also associated with poorer child health and nutritional outcomes.

The further exacerbation of challenges around teenage pregnancy is unemployment, which is rife among our youth. Due to this, unemployed young fathers, reasoning that they need to support their children, are often caught on the wrong side of the law as they often engage in criminal and violent acts.

In the past two decades, loveLife has, through its various youth centres provided psychosocial counselling to young people, when they desperately need to speak to be heard and speak to someone, with various concerns such as mental health, teen pregnancy, peer pressure, suicide, and career guidance, among many others in relation to youth issues, being addressed.

We can’t go on like this. We need more than words, rather than more plans that are unclear when it comes to implementation. The Department of Basic Education introduced the Prevention and Management of Learner Pregnancy in Schools Act, which should really drive the DBE to implement, such as ensuring those charged with statutory rape are prosecuted.

-Joseph Rasethe is the acting chief executive officer of the New loveLife Trust.

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