Imagine the excitement of finding out that 1 764 babies were born in South Africa on New Year’s Day this year. Now imagine how horrifying it would be to find out 65 of those babies were born to adolescent girls, the youngest a 13-year-old. However, that is the unfortunate reality.
Amnesty International South Africa’s statistics reveal that 33 899 births occurred to children of 17 and younger in 2020, and 64% of the births had no details of the father. Therefore no information on the men who fathered these children, or how many statutory rape cases were opened.
With an increase of almost 50% in under-aged pregnancies, it raises the question of who is to blame and how to fix it. No individual or organisation can or should be expected to shoulder the blame. We can agree that this is a societal issue, one that the people and government should work on together.
The state has a responsibility to create an environment where people can make autonomous and informed decisions, and society needs to teach men ‒ I can hardly believe I have to say this ‒ that it is morally wrong (aside from the legal ramifications) to have relationships with under-aged girls. Society must also teach girls to value themselves and their bodies more.
Parents, and religious and cultural leaders all have roles to play in dispelling whatever myths and outdated cultural mores may have condoned or even encouraged such behaviour in the past.