Over 100 teenage mothers in South Africa gave birth on Christmas and New Year’s Day this year. This figure from the National Health Department has sounded the alarm for local healthcare authorities.
Experts are debating whether poverty and a lack of sex education from an early age could be contributing factors to the country’s high teenage pregnancy rate.
The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Social Development says teenage pregnancy cannot be viewed as isolation from the challenges of poverty and early school dropouts among pregnant teenagers.
Stats SA’s Release on Recorded Live Births revealed in 2020 that South Africa had over 2 600 young mothers between the ages of 10 and 14 years.
Reasons for teen pregnancies
Researcher and Gender Based Violence (GBV) activist at Wits University, Lisa Vetten says there are several complex reasons for the country’s high teenage pregnancy rate.
She adds that one can be sexual violence and abuse, another could be the lack of children gaining access to contraception, nurses refusing to help young people and chasing them away, or that the children do not know how to use contraception.
Vetten elaborates further, “They are not getting proper information. They are not getting the proper kind of set education. That seems to be the major reason contributing to teenage pregnancy. Under COVID-19, there have been additional complications, and that is why we have seen quite a significant increase in teenage pregnancies since about 2020. There have been situations where termination of pregnancies had not been available.”
Director of the Uthingo Crisis Centre, Sbonisile Ngcobo says it is difficult for young parents to raise children when they are inexperienced and immature themselves. The organisation works to help abused children and victims of gender-based violence.
“Our kids are being raised by other kids because if I was pregnant as a teenager and I’m raising a child, how am I going to educate that child? How am I going to raise that child, because I have failed myself? So how am I going to raise the child? We need to sit with our society and remind them what it like is to be a parent. Let us sit with our children, let us talk to them, let us educate them about sex because that is where the problem is now,” adds Ncgobo.
Similarly, the Director of Youth Inter-Active organisation – an organisation that runs campaigns around HIV/Aids and youth programs, Nkosikhona Mpungose says boys too need mentoring programs to increase their awareness around promiscuity and sexual behaviour.
“Adolescent young men and boys are not given mentorship progress as far as young girls and Adolescent girls are given. So that, on its own creates a problem when it comes to teenage pregnancy. I think poverty is in the centre of everything, older men have resources and younger women still looking for support and resources and that is what they use, mostly. So they use their power and their influence in attracting these young women and also to overpower them. Once they have resources. Younger girls cannot even negotiate safer security with them because they are scared they might lose those opportunities and the resources in their hands.”
Government has however called on law enforcement agencies to pursue criminal charges in cases where sexual partners are two years older than the teenagers they have sex with, which is against the law.
The age of consent in South African law for boys and girls is 16 years.