Teenage pregnancy in South Africa
She slowly straddles to fetch water at a nearby tape with her 8 month daughter strapped to her back.Her four year old son plays with a worn out tyre, running up and down the small surrounding enclosure.As soon as her bucket is full, Lesego goes back home into a house which shows the remnants of apartheid and walls plastered by poverty. She comes to join me on a wooden bench carrying papers which include school reports, awards and other certificates of achievement. Her story is of a bright and intelligent student who lost hope of attaining matric the day she realised her pregnancy. At only 15 years old, Lesego welcomed the arrival of her baby boy and named him Kgomotso a tswana which means ‘comforter.’ She was forced to drop out of school and look for a job to take care of her new born since her mother was unemployed and dependent on government social grants.
Her father left when Lesego started her first year in school and news from him or about him has never been heard. At 18years old she gave birth to her second born from another boyfriend who cowardly left the minute news of pregnancy reached his ears. Lesego‘s story resonates with many teenage girls in South Africa who fall pregnant before reaching 20 years old. South Africa has a huge teen pregnancy problem – one in three girls has had a baby by the age of 20. Approximately 30% of teenagers in South Africa report ‘ever having been pregnant’, the majority, unplanned. While this number has decreased over the past few decades, it is still unacceptably high. The figure is for all teenagers. (13-19 years old), but motherhood for an 18 or 19 year old has very different implications than for a young teenager, one aged 15.
Teenagers account for 36% of maternal deaths, though they make up only 8% of the 1million pregnancies SA reports every year. This is because most of them are too young to deal with the complications that come with pregnancy. Teenage pregnancy is common in South Africa and besides the current decline at one point between 2005 and 2006, it spiralled out of the way and became uncontrollable.In Africa, teenage pregnancy comes at a serious cost for governments and at times means the girl child might or will not be empowered.
For example girls who normally fall pregnant before the age of 20 are not only forced to be child bearers but face the burden of being breadwinners at an early age, fail to achieve academic merit ,poverty and at times are forced into early marriage.Our strategy therefore on reducing teenage pregnancy lies in effective reproductive health programmes and sex education in schools particularly in resource limited settings. Opponents of sex education argue that education encourages more and earlier sexual activity.
Even though this line of thinking is true however its anticipated outcomes are not guaranteed.Understanding behaviours which influence teenagers to engage in early sexual activity should be understood.For example whats the role of peer pressure,how do different types of media(print and television) influence behaviour, which activities do modern teenagers want to be identified with.All these and more should be understood before coming up with comprehensive programmes for teenager’s.
The Dutch approach to preventing teenage pregnancy has often been seen as a good and effective model by other countries. The curriculum focuses on values, attitudes, communication and negotiation skills, as well as biological aspects of reproduction. The media has encouraged open dialogue and the health-care system guarantees confidentiality and a non-judgmental approach.As we channel our efforts to more effective teenage pregnancy prevention,policymakers and governments should be aware that we cannot fix todays problems with yesteryears approaches.Albert Einstein once said,‘We cannot solve our problems with the same way of thinking we used when we created them‘ (Lesego her children and family are fictional characters which were only used for the purpose of this article to reflect the problem of teenage pregnancy in South Africa)