This was after a written response to DA MP Sonja Boshoff’s parliamentary question revealed that 193 pupils in Grades 3, 4 and 5 fell pregnant between 2014 and 2016.
If school pupils from Grade 6 and 7 who fell pregnant were added, this number would increase to 1449.
On Friday, Dr Yogan Pillay, the department’s deputy director-general, said these statistics and others the department had researched over the years was why it launched campaigns last year targeting young girls specifically.
“We’ve known for a while of this challenge of teen pregnancy, that’s why Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa launched the She Conquers national HIV campaign for girls and young women to focus specifically on the 15-24 year age group, as we know they have the highest rate of HIV infection,” Pillay said.
It is a three-year campaign that focuses on HIV infections, unwanted pregnancies, school dropouts, sexual and gender-based violence, unemployment and a shortage of economic opportunities among girls and young women.
Pillay said that in 2014 alone, 70 000 girls 18 years and younger gave birth in public health facilities.
That number had slightly decreased in 2016 to around 60 000 births, but much work still needed to be done in terms of increasing access to contraception, particularly for girls in rural areas, he said.
The parliamentary reply also showed that 18 357 schoolgirls fell pregnant in 2014, with 15 504 in 2015 and 8 732 in 2016.
Boshoff said: “Although the overall numbers seem to indicate a drop in school pregnancies, the Department of Basic Education was unable to provide statistics for Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal."
“Traditionally, these two provinces account for large numbers of school pregnancies: a total of 6 477 in 2014 and 5 178 in 2015, combined.”
Pillay said the She Conquers campaign was one of several the department had embarked on to target the youth on various issues.
He said a B-Wise interactive mobi-site was launched in 2015 to address issues such as sexual and reproductive health, among others.
“We are also working with the Department of Basic Education to get condoms into high schools, but one of our problems is that many of our communities are very conservative. Some communities think that providing condoms is promoting promiscuity,” Pillay added.
“We are also working on improving healthcare facilities to make them youth and adolescent-friendly, where they can access contraception and family planning."
“We will also launch an initiative in a month or so so that youngsters can report any insults or verbal abuse they receive at public health centres.”
Boshoff also said the DA would urgently submit further parliamentary questions to find out how many girls under the age of 16 were pregnant, and whether any charges had been instituted against those responsible, as this would constitute statutory rape.
Pillay said pre-teens and teens were vulnerable to sexual abuse.
“Most of them are abused In any case, sex with a child is illegal whether you have consent or not. It is not only illegal, but immoral,” he said.
Young girls were simply “biologically not ready” to bear children,” he stated.