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Twenty-four Grade 5 pupils in the Western Cape fell pregnant in 2007, and seven the following year, a report by the Department of Basic Education has revealed.
Pupils in Grade 5 are 11 or 12 years old.
And across the country, just short of 100 000 pupils fell pregnant during 2007 and 2008 - 2 174 in the Western Cape in 2007, and 1 983 in the province in 2008.
In some provinces, excluding the Western Cape, pregnancies of Grade 3 and 4 pupils were also reported.
The report is based on data collected through the 2008 and 2009 annual school surveys for ordinary schools, undertaken by the national and provincial education departments.
Ordinary schools are those not categorised as special needs schools.
As part of the survey, principals were asked for the number of pupils who fell pregnant during the previous academic year.
Patric Solomons, director at Molo Songololo, an NGO that lobbies for the rights of children, said he suspected that many of the cases were the result of sex being forced on the children. The problem of pupil pregnancies, he warned, could be even more widespread, with some cases potentially going unnoticed.
Older pupils could also have opted for abortions, or just dropped out of school.
Ada Buys, a unit manager for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse in the Helderberg (Patch), said having sex with a child younger than 12 was considered rape. Teachers and community workers who were aware of such incidents, she said, should report them.
The Sexual Offences Act makes sex with anyone under the age of 16, even with consent, illegal.
Paddy Attwell, spokesman for the Western Cape Education Department, said the department was concerned about the pregnancies because of the effect they had on the lives of the girls.
The department employed social workers in every circuit, who worked with colleagues in other departments and agencies to provide support. The departments included social services and health.
“Our role in education includes education itself. The life-orientation curriculum, for example, deals with sex and sexuality at appropriate levels,” Attwell said.
The provincial department also had a policy called “Managing Learner Pregnancy in Public Schools”, which provided guidelines on how schools should support pregnant pupils.
He said the department’s HIV/Aids programme dealt directly with the issue of risky sexual behaviour, and had contributed to reducing the infection rate in the Western Cape in recent years.
Granville Whittle, spokesman for the Department of Basic Education, said the department was involved in activities to learn more about pupil pregnancy and how to respond to this problem. A research report, - Teenage Pregnancy in South Africa - with a focus on school-going pupils - had been released in 2009.
The Department of Basic Education had used the study to develop a “comprehensive strategy for prevention and management of teenage pregnancy”.
A handbook for pupils on how to prevent sexual abuse in schools was also distributed. - Cape Argus