Teen pregnancies in South Africa have doubled over 4 years

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While teenage pregnancy has always been a cause for concern in South Africa, the past few years have seen a rapid and alarming increase in these statistics.

A national study by Barron et al, published in the SA Medical Journal in 2022, showed the rate of pregnancies among girls aged 10-14 had increased by 48.7% from 2017-2021.

Statistics SA also revealed that the country had recorded 34 587 teenage pregnancies by the 2020/21 financial year-end.

Minister Angie Motshekga said schools had been encouraged to create an environment that supports pregnant girls. This would include counselling, information, referrals, treatment and support.

The girls must be linked to social services, and the pregnancies reported to the SAPS. With the alarming rate of these teenage pregnancies, is this the best response our government can provide?

It is no secret that teenage pregnancy is linked to inequality and poverty. Several World Bank studies have shown that teen mothers, particularly in developing countries, cannot complete their primary education.

In South Africa, recent Department of Basic Education statistics revealed that 33% of these teen mothers do not return to school. Thus, lack of education diminishes opportunities for advancement available to teen mothers, perpetuating inequality and poverty that made them vulnerable in the first place.

Stats SA has further shown that high rates of teenage pregnancies are seen in the more rural provinces like the Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga and Limpopo, establishing the direct link between the pregnancies and poverty.

The minister essentially criminalising teen pregnancies is concerning; the SAPS is not adequately equipped to deal with these issues. Moreover, evidence gathered by the Commission for Gender Equality showed that of the 90 rape cases prosecuted in Seshego, Limpopo, only four resulted in convictions. The commission also found that in 2020/21, the country recorded a 24% case withdrawal rate.

Delays in processing DNA and lack of vehicles compound the litany of problems. If this same organisation cannot bring justice to existing gender-based violence cases, what will it look like when they deal with young and adolescent girls who are victims of statutory rape? Would it not be better if the government worked with various organisations to ensure the SAPS are equipped to deal with these issues and that the perpetrators are convicted?

Various other sexual reproductive health concerns are associated with teen pregnancy. Adolescent girls are at high risk of contracting HIV. Unaids findings from 2021 show 1 300 adolescent girls and young women are infected with HIV weekly in South Africa. These alarming statistics show the danger associated with sexual activities that result in these teen pregnancies.

It then burdens them with having to live with the chronic disease at a young age. The government must prioritise young and adolescent girls in HIV prevention programmes that offer access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) or the vaginal ring. The teen pregnancy statistics demonstrate current interventions are not working, which explains the failure to prevent new HIV infections in this demographic.

The government must acknowledge that teen pregnancies cannot be dealt with in isolation. A holistic approach that includes the law, addressing pressing socio-economic issues and sufficient provision of reproductive health-care services are required.

The government needs to prioritise the contributors to the teen pregnancy epidemic and remedy those so teenage pregnancies rates can decrease. This would include dealing directly with the causes of poverty, inequality, substance abuse, poor access to contraceptives, termination of pregnancy services and sexual education.

The question is whether the government can effectively deal with the causes – poverty and inequality. Can it fight substance abuse or ensure public health facilities constantly have adequate stock of contraceptives?

These are some issues the government would have to deal with to decrease these alarming rates of teen pregnancies.

These pregnancies are due to poverty, inequality and poor service delivery. Unless the government can deal with these root causes, teen pregnancies will continue to derail the future of thousands of promising young women.

Petla is a junior researcher at the Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation at the University of Johannesburg

  • Source: IOL Education


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