The National Assembly committee on education has encouraged conversations around teenage pregnancy.
Last month it was revealed that more than 14 000 girls between the ages of 10 and 14 fell pregnant between April 2017 to March this year.
Gauteng Health MEC Nomathemba Mokgethi said girls as young as 10 are among the 23 226 girls who fell pregnant in Gauteng between April 2020 and March this year.
A total of 934 babies were delivered by girls between the ages of 10 and 14, while over 19 000 were delivered by those between the ages of 15 and 19.
Committee chairperson Bongiwe Mbinqo-Gigaba said the issue of teenage pregnancy was a very emotional and sensitive topic.
The Department of Basic Education briefed the committee on Tuesday and attributed the rising number of pregnancies to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Deputy director-general for the Education Department, Granville Whittle, told the committee that the country saw a 37% spike in gender-based violence (GBV) complaints in the first week of total lockdown.
The lockdown, he said, has exposed the many inequities that affect adolescent girls in particular and has increased their vulnerability.
Granville said often children were either victims of, or witness domestic violence.
This results in harmful effects on their physical health, mental development and well-being.
The committee heard that rape, child abuse and GBV are “highly prevalent” and contributing to the issue of teenage pregnancy.
Key findings on the effects of the pandemic were that school closures and containment measures resulted in loss of education and social protections, which saw increases in teen pregnancy, sexual exploitation and sexual violence.
According to Granville, there are about 1 300 new cases of HIV in adolescent girls and young women, with 46% of the cases of children being sexual abuse complaints.
He said the HIV prevalence among young women is nearly four times greater than that of young men.
He told the committee that in the age group of girls between 10 and 19, the Northern Cape had the highest number of deliveries between April 2020 and March 2021 at 19.3%. This is followed by the Eastern Cape with 17.1%, KwaZulu-Natal 16.5% and Mpumalanga 15.5%. Gauteng recorded the fewest teen pregnancies with 8.9%.
In an effort to educate learners, the department introduced the Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) which is aimed at equipping children and young people with knowledge, skills, attitudes and values.
In addition, learners are educate on how to identify and report sexual abuse, remain HIV negative and remain on treatment if positive, prevent pregnancy, among others.
Mbinqo-Gigaba said it is time for parents to unlearn issues of the past such as not addressing sex education with children. “We need to be radical when we deal with it. It’s only those parents who have a culture of sitting around a table, having dinner and speaking to their children who do this… many of us don’t do this.
“It is a matter very close to us. We are all raising children. There is no one who can say ‘I have perfected how to raise a child’ because there is no formula that really guides people on how to raise children,” Mbinqo-Gigaba said.
Committee member Ronnie Moroatshehla said it is the things society does not want to talk about which usually “bottles up”. “Our communities need to engage their children about sexualities. I want to commend the DBE for coming up with concepts and strategies. Our kids should be taught what is right and what is wrong from the onset.”
Another member, Nombuyiselo Adoons, encouraged parents to play an important role in sex education. “We must educate our children on how to behave and we also need to allow our children to be children. They are being robbed of their childhood when we see reports of learner pregnancies. In some of these numbers these girls are HIV positive.”
Adoons said the fact the lockdown contributed to the rising number of teenage pregnancies is very worrying. “If we have such challenges when we are locked with our own kids at home, what is it that we are expecting the next person to do if we are failing at taking care of our kids?”
South African Federation of Trade unions general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said the union is gravely concerned as teenage and under-aged pregnancies reflect a society that is sliding into crises on multiple levels. “Clearly, both the state apparatus and communities are failing teenagers.
“For the judicial apparatus to correct their slumbersome handling of the more than 14 000 potential cases of statutory rape, government must profile the ages of males who impregnate these girls, and those adults found to be involved must be sentenced.
“But impeding little efforts from the judiciary, are parents who do not report these cases to the police as long as the perpetrator accepts responsibility, and in most instances, even offer a hand in marriage.”