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Johannesburg - While two Free State high schools are squaring off with the province’s department of education over the fate of pregnant pupils, studies suggest that young people are having sex much younger.
Last week, the Constitutional Court heard the case between Harmony and Welkom high schools over the schools’ policies on the management of pupil pregnancies.
The policies state that if a pupil falls pregnant, she may not return to school during that same year, regardless of the month in which she gave birth.
The policy further says that even if the pupil gives birth in December, she may not return to school that following January, but only the one thereafter.
The school governing body (SGB) at Welkom High adopted the policy in November 2008, and it was first implemented in 2010 when a 15-year-old Grade 9 pupil fell pregnant. She was due to give birth in December of that year.
The school told the pupil’s mother that, from September 16, the teenager could not return to school until the second term of 2011.
The mother objected to this, and the head of department (HOD) at the provincial department of education intervened and instructed the school’s principal to allow the pupil to return to school.
The pupil gave birth in October and returned to school in time to write her final exams, which she passed.
At Harmony High, the same thing happened when a 17-year-old Grade 11 pupil fell pregnant and gave birth in July. The school told her mother that she would not be readmitted for the remainder of the year.
The mother raised a complaint with the department, and again the HOD instructed the principal to readmit the child.
The HOD intervened on the basis that discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy was unconstitutional.
The HOD also argued that not readmitting the pupils back to school was a violation of the South African Schools Act, which states that pupils can be prevented from attending school only if they were suspended or expelled for serious misconduct.
The schools took the matter to court, arguing that the HOD didn’t have the authority to instruct a school principal not to enforce SGB policy.
The South African Human Rights Commission, the Centre for Child Law and Equal Education made submissions in the case as friends of the court. All three organisations sided with the department and submitted that preventing the pupils from attending school was in violation of numerous provisions in the Bill of Rights.
The Free State High Court and the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the schools, which is why it’s now up to the Constitutional Court to rule on the matter.
A survey conducted by the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), an international organisation that provides sexual and reproductive health education and services, showed that South African children were having sex at a much younger age compared to their peers in other African countries.
In the South African leg of the survey, 51 percent of the respondents were aged between 16 and 24 years old and 49 percent were in the 25 to 34 age group.
Thirty eight percent of the respondents said that what they knew about sex they learnt mostly from their friends.
Only 5 percent of the respondents said they learnt about sex from their families.
It was also found that Nigeria, Namibia and Zimbabwe recorded higher levels of family involvement in terms of providing information.
IPPF director-general Tewodros Melesse said: “The fact that parents are not engaging with their children on sex education is of great concern. Young people need responsible and reliable sources of such information in order to be properly educated. We need families to teach young people about sex, sexual health and responsible behaviour. Not speaking about it within the family increases the risks rather than preventing them.”
Caught in the act
*A video clip of two pupils having sex at the back of an empty classroom was recently leaked to the Cape Town-based Voice newspaper.
In the clip, which had spread in and around the school, the girl seems unaware they are being filmed, while the boy smiles and gestures at the camera.
The girl later looks up and sees the other pupil recording and tries to cover her face.
Following investigations, the Western Cape Department of Education said the incident was filmed in May last year and that the three pupils, who were in Grade 11 at the time, were expelled from the school following a disciplinary hearing.
* Earlier this month, Volksblad newspaper reported that a matric pupil from Welkom High School was arrested after he was caught having sex in a public park with a girl who appeared to be unaware of what was happening. Friends of the boy apparently filmed the incident, and it appears that the girl was drunk.
The pupils allegedly made so much noise that residents came outside to check what was going on. A taxi driver also stopped to investigate what was happening and the two men who had been travelling in the taxi pulled the boy off the girl, who, “in her drunken state”, threatened to complain to the police because they had been interrupted.
“When the girl, who is said to be the boy’s girlfriend, sobered up, she could not remember the incident. Blood was drawn to establish how drunk she was. The boy is now facing a rape charge because, if the girl was drunk at the time of the incident, she could not have given consent to the sex,” the newspaper stated.