We ask what happens if a woman fakes a pregnancy?

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Photo by Alicia Petresc on Unsplash
Photo by Alicia Petresc on Unsplash

As South Africa waits to find out what the truth behind the Tembisa 10 is, Linda Matshoza, a legal professional at LAW FOR ALL tells Parent24 it’s hard to believe that any woman would put herself through the trauma of lying about reaching the emotionally rewarding milestone of becoming a mother.

"But a quick search on the internet uncovers many sad and shocking reasons why some women pretend to be expecting - from keeping a relationship to taking some time off from work," she adds.

A browse through Whisper, an online community where people share their secrets, shows a number of motivations for women to pretend they're expecting. 

Closer to home, in 2019 a Kwa-Zulu Natal woman was arrested for pretending to be pregnant before kidnaping a baby, and more recently entertainer Mampintsha had to fend off his own mother's accusations that his new wife, Babes Wodumo, was faking her pregnancy.

The missing 'maybes'

Then of course there is the current saga of the Tembisa 10.

The woman who claimed to have given birth to decuplets in June has been taken in for psychiatric evaluation, according to her lawyer, as there appears to be no sign of the record-breaking babies, or even a true pregnancy. 

According to news reports, the national Department of Health has maintained it has no record of the delivery of decuplets in Gauteng.

"It cannot be that 10 or eight babies are born and that no evidence of their whereabouts or existence can be established," said spokesperson Popo Maja in a statement.  

Lost trust

There are many repercussions to faking a pregnancy, such as losing the trust of friends and family when there is no baby forthcoming, to facing prosecution for forgery or financial fraud. 

Other women who are trying to conceive, or facing infertility, can be hurt by a faked pregnancy even if the attempt is intended as a joke. 

Legal consequences 

No matter the reasons that prompt the lie, the truth surely will come out at some point, Matshoza maintains. 

"So it’s important to know what to expect before pretending to be expecting," she says, mainly because it could have life-changing emotional and legal consequences.

Depending on the circumstances, a woman who lies about her pregnancy, and receives financial gain or gifts from her partner, as a result, could face criminal fraud charges, Matshoza stresses. 

"Not to mention, civil claims to pay damages if there was significant financial loss suffered due to the lies," she adds, explaining it depends on the extent of the infraction.

For example, if the person accepted gifts/donations/money to the value of R50 000 whilst being fully aware that they had lied about the pregnancy it may be deemed as more severe.

"As with any situation such as a criminal case or a civil suit the onus will always be on the aggrieved party to pursue a legal recourse and depending on the severity of the infraction; the law will decide what sanction is applicable," Matshoza says.

She explains that the returning of gifts for example would be dependent on both parties, as well as how the aggrieved party specifically wants to deal with the matter.

"Its always difficult with issues such as gifts because at the end of the day you give out of your own volition. The question then becomes 'did the person who was committing fraud do it with the intention to get people to provide such gifts and what was the extent of the deceit in order to further this agenda?'" she says.  

Medical forgery 

Additionally, forging medical documents is also a criminal offence, and can result in prosecution whether you've created the forgery yourself, committed fraud or passed off a forged document as real.

Anyone who becomes aware of this forgery is compelled to report it to the South African Police Services and the Health Professions Council of South Africa maybe have to be alerted too, says Ethiqal

Mental health

If a woman who fakes a pregnancy attempts to mitigate her sentence with a mental health plea, Matshoza describes how the question of mental health is very difficult to answer, as at the end of the day it depends on the case.

"The onus will always be on the person alleging mental health as a defense to prove that it exists. This will be by way of employing the services of an expert such as a psychologist to do the necessary evaluations," she says.

The question of jail time again depends on the severity, but in all likelihood it would be a civil recourse that would be awarded, she adds.

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