In some rural areas in South Africa, falling pregnant out of wedlock is still considered a taboo, whether you are working and able to support your baby, or still finishing high school - it does not matter.
Women find themselves being ridiculed and mocked by gossip-mongers in the community. Sometimes they are used as examples to warn other women against falling pregnant.
At some schools, teachers and principals even go to the extent of suspending you once it is known that you are pregnant.
In their defense, they are trying to save the reputation of the school, but little do they know of the damage this may have on the learner who is pregnant.
The boys do not receive punishment at all, if they make a girl pregnant while they are still at school.
This unfair treatment still happens today, and is even worse when you fall pregnant twice, like Makhokolotso Khapetsi did.
She shared her story with Parent24 so we could learn how her experience has shaped her life, and changed her approach to parenting her two children.
Pregnant at 14
Makhokolotso grew up in a small farming town called Hobhouse in the Free State province. She was raised in a warm happy family by both parents along with her seven siblings.
She fell pregnant while she was in grade 6 at the age of 14. Her pregnancy resulted in expulsion from that school and later in the year she had to look for a new school.
After giving birth she went back to repeat grade 6. A few months down the line she fell pregnant again - with the same boyfriend.
During the second pregnancy, she kept quiet and never told her family until she was heavily pregnant, because she thought that could spare her the embarrassment.
A death in the family
But as soon as it became clear Makhokolotso was pregnant again, everyone in the community started insulting her and warning other students to stay away from her if they do not want to fall pregnant too.
She told Parent24 that her mother and teachers at the new school were very supportive, they even suggested that she can have a month off after birth to take care of the baby and come back to finish school again after that.
At that time she was the oldest at school, and she said that can be very discouraging sometimes.
When Makhokolotso was in grade 9 her baby daddy died in a terrible hit and run.
His body was only recovered after seven days, and the children could not mourn their father properly, because people from the morgue told the grieving mom that it was unhealthy for the children to see him at the grave site.
From bad to worse
Three years later, when Makhokolotso was doing her Matric, she was raped.
She was walking home from town when an older men told her to choose between rape and death.
Sadly, she shared that her mother and sister are also survivors of rape.
She recalls not sleeping after that because she thought she was pregnant. "I started thinking and seeing pregnancy signs a month after the incident. This led me into having suicidal thoughts," she revealed.
As a result at some point, Makhokolotso says, she was having suicidal thoughts and was completely stressed and unable to cope at her first year in the University of the Free State.
She received no counselling or medical attention at the time, because she told no one about the incident.
By her second semester she could not continue with her studies.
Hope on the horizon
Now, 16 years later, Makhokolotso is registered with UNISA and she is completing her studies there.
She told us that she is looking forward to the future and she is doing the best she can to share her story.
She is also raising her boys to be better man.
The former teen mom told us that she is spreading the word in her family, educating young girls about rape and the importance of disclosure for healing.
"I am also teaching them not to allow anyone to violate them in any sexual way," she says.
Makhokolotso told Parent24 that her source of strength is God. She is a firm believer and says she got through her past by praying it forward.
Read our Q&A with Makhokolotso below
Touched by this story, we had a few questions for her, to find out more about how her experience has shaped her life.
1. Did you know about options such as abortion and adoption when you fell pregnant? Why were those options not ideal to you?
Yes, I knew about the options I had during both my pregnancies.
In my 1st pregnancy, the nurses asked my mom to abort my son, but she refused.
During my 2nd pregnancy I was so ashamed and disappointed in myself that I didn’t tell anyone about it, but wished I could just wake up, not pregnant.
2. If you were to go back in time, what would you have done differently?
If I knew better, I would focus on being a child, stay away from boys and enjoy that season of my life.
3. Why didn't you report the person who raped you?
I didn’t want to take that step because I was busy with school at the time and that's where I wanted to focus my attention.
Even now, I can't because I don't want to open that chapter of my life.
I have buried that incident of my past, because I have healed and moved on from, and currently I am focusing on healing other women.
4. Do you think what happened to you, your mother and sister may suggest that rape is a generation curse in your family?
Yes. I believe it was a generational curse and it ended with me.
I prayed against it and I am openly talking against it, unlike my mom and sister who did not speak about it.
I am also teaching the children in my family what is right and wrong.
On a journey
Makhokolotso offers some advice too: "God has a purpose for all of us. It has not been easy for me to learn from my mistakes, but I am still on this journey and I am learning to be a good mother to my children."
"Do not stop fighting to be who you want to be. There is a better tomorrow for everyone. We just have to keep going and keep believing that our dreams will come through in the end," she believes.
Share with us some of the stories of the women in your life who have defied the odds to succeed.
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