Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga has tabled before Parliament her department’s policy on the prevention and management of learner pregnancy in schools.
This came to light after National Assembly Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula referred the policy document to the basic education portfolio committee for consideration.
Motshekga said that the policy document was developed by her department with financial and technical support from the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco).
“It was developed through an extensive consultative process with the national and provincial Education, Social Development and Health Departments, as well as with a range of stakeholders and partners,” Motshekga said.
She said the policy sought to reduce and manage the incidence of learner pregnancy and its adverse impacts on the affected learners and, more broadly, on the basic education system.
The policy document comes against the backdrop of the high number of girls falling pregnant, with 156 000 girls reported pregnant during 2021–2022, up from the 126 000 girls recorded in the previous financial year.
In its updated policy, the Basic Education Department said the rate of learner pregnancies in South Africa had become a major challenge for both national development and the Basic Education system.
The department said it acknowledged its central role in the social sector’s collective response to the challenge.
“This policy provides guidance on the reduction of unintended pregnancies, management of their pre- and postnatal consequences, limitation of associated stigma and discrimination against affected learners and, importantly, the retention and re-enrolment of affected learners in school.
“Furthermore, this policy is informed by an agenda to eliminate gender disparities in education,” reads the document.
The department said that the policy sought to ensure accessible provision of information on prevention, care, counselling and support, frameworks for impact mitigation, the choice of termination of pregnancy and guidelines for systemic management and implementation.
“It commits the DBE and other role-players to providing comprehensive sexuality education as a crucial part of school curricula to safeguard learners’ sexual and reproductive health rights.”
The policy document said it affirmed the right of a pregnant learner to remain in school during her pregnancy and to return as soon after giving birth as is appropriate for both the learner and her child.
“For its part, the school is required to reasonably accommodate the learner to ensure that her right to education is not disrupted or ended by pregnancy or the birth of her child.”
It also said that the school, family and broader community have an obligation to ensure the continued education of the affected learner and to support after the pregnancy.
“For these reasons, expulsion or exclusion of pregnant learners from a school is prohibited.”
It stated that a key consideration was that the policy recognised that many learner pregnancies occurred as a result of consensual sex but, equally, many learner pregnancies occur as a result of non-consensual sex.
“A child between the ages of 12 and 16 can consent, but if consent is given to a person who is 18 years or older, the latter is guilty of the crime of statutory rape.
“An educator must never have sex with a learner, irrespective of consent given by a learner 16 years and older, because this is prohibited conduct for educators.”
The department said that it would ensure that partnerships with key social sector stakeholders protect, support and advance the interests of pregnant learners.
It will also establish a subcommittee on prevention and management of learner pregnancy to guide and co-ordinate progress and reporting on the implementation of this policy and the achievement of its objectives.