Teenage Pregnancy

Ever since the introduction of sex education in schools and at health facilities like local clinics, teenage pregnancy rates have been declining. Today’s adolescents are more cognisant of the various types of birth controls and are able to engage on sex topics more openly than my generation did. According to 2019 study by Statistics of Children in South Africa  the percentage of teenage mothers is not increasing. Additionally, data from department of health suggest that between 2004 and 2017 there has been a consistent decline in the share of teenagers aged 15 – 19 who attended antenatal clinics. This looks good on paper, however there is are still unbroken patterns of abuse of shaming and punishing pregnant adolescents in our communities that is damaging and degrading. 

Words such as useless, ill-behaved and loose are still used in our communities to stigmatise teenage pregnancy and further isolate teens that are pregnant from their peers at school and from the rest of the community.

Historically, in many communities, it was a common practice for teenagers to be rejected not only by society, but their families as well. Girls would be taken out of school before their pregnancy even start to show and send them away so that no one gets to know of the disgrace the young girl has brought to the family. Teenage pregnancy was seen as a humiliation because culturally, it is immoral for a girl to get pregnant out of wedlock. This isolation has forced a lot of young girls into early unwanted marriages in which she lives with the boy or the boy’s family instead of her own. This practice  is still popular in the rural areas where culture is still observed. We have seen this with a popular reality TV show called “Isencane Lengane”, which loosely translates to “this child is still young”. The reality TV shows the patriarchal system that is still deep entrenched in rural communities, which has kept women in abusive marriages. Sadly, this ugly trend is now being passed on to a younger generations.

These are some of the things that slow down the progress of gender equality as summarized in United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal number five, where in rural communities it only remains a perception because young pregnant girls are made to believe that their dreams are over and as a results they are denied by their families to pursue educational opportunities that are available. It is also evident that when two teenagers become parents, it is only a girl who is forced to leave school and stay home to care for the baby, while a boy child is thriving and advancing themselves further.

It is women’s responsibility to step up and help to advance younger girls and give support without judgement. I know for a fact that some of these young girls do not become pregnant by choice, but rather due to circumstances that are beyond their control. Some were raped by close relatives or strangers while others were driven by poverty out of their homes, reasons to their pregnancies vary and the least we can do is to help, because pregnancy comes with a kind of stress that is overwhelming and can have negative effects to one’s mental and physical health. Shaming teenagers for being pregnant only add up the stress and therefore expose them to greater health risks. While we shame and utter ugly words to teen mothers, let’s all remember that they too, are children and the need for affection and acceptance are extremely important in their lives. This way, the United Nation’s SDG 5 will be more progressive than ever before.

Here are a few suggestions to lend support in not only our homes but the South African community at large.

  1. Speak openly at home about teenage pregnancies and the preventative methods.
  2. As parents, take an interest in your child’s love life and give them the freedom to openly speak about their relationships.
  3. The message must be emphasised in schools.
  4. Teach boys about their responsibility to protect the girl from early pregnancies.
  5. Make condoms and contraceptives accessible without judgement.

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