The stark realities of being a teen mom: 16 and Pregnant

Teen girls Thato, Fanele and Nhlanhla show the realities of being 16 and pregnant in South Africa. Picture Supplied

Teen girls Thato, Fanele and Nhlanhla show the realities of being 16 and pregnant in South Africa. Picture Supplied

Published Jun 4, 2017


"My life is messed up... you know I want to be a celebrity. My first option was abortion, I was thinking, 'What is my granny going to say?' I'm planning on raising my baby on my own".

These were 16 year-old Fanele's words as she came face to face with the stark reality of her situation.

At 35 weeks pregnant, living in a Kliptown, Soweto informal settlement, sharing a space with 18 other people and 10 cats and only her grandmother as the breadwinner – Fanele's journey into early motherhood has started on a back-foot.

Unemployed, still a high school pupil, surrounded by poverty and a lack of basic services in the community – Fanele is one of three girls profiled in the one hour documentary MTV Shuga Presents Sixteen and Pregnant which aired last night.

The show – which first debuted on MTV in the US in 2009 – was filmed around Rockville, Kliptown and Pretoria earlier this year and follows a critical period in the lives of Fanele, Nhlanhla and Thato.

All 16. All pregnant – and facing the harsh realities of what this huge shift in their lives entails.

While airing to mixed reviews on social media streams this week – the show's producers explained that it was designed to help educate young people about what it is really like to be 16 and pregnant in modern day South Africa.

The most recent government data shows that 15 500 South African school-age pupils fell pregnant in 2015.

Further, each year, about 400 000 new HIV infections occur in adolescent girls and young women aged 16 to 24 years-old in southern and eastern Africa, partly as a result of young girls getting involved with so-called "blessers" – older men who shower vulnerable young girls with gifts in exchange for sexual favours.

Nhlanhla is one such young girl – who contracted HIV from her encounter with her child's father.

"I fell in love with an older man... when I missed my period, the clinic did tests and confirmed I was 16 and pregnant. They also tested for HIV and found I was HIV positive. At first I couldn't believe it. I told my boyfriend and he said that couldn't be true," she said, holding tears back.

"I don't want him to be part of my life again. I can't focus, I'm always stressed about him... so it's for the best for me and my child", she said on the show.

Fortunately for Nhlanhla, her viral load is undetected and is in good health during her pregnancy and receives support from a local group, Mothers 2 Mothers which supports HIV positive girls and women.

All three girls eventually give birth via cesarean section as their doctors explain their bodies are underdeveloped to give natural birth.

And while, they all are shown to have embraced motherhood and are loving of their babies – the impact on their lives is marked.

Thato – who comes from a middle-class home – had to deal with her father's disapproval of her baby's father. The two (father and boyfriend) end up in an altercation because of this.

When her daughter is born, Thato's relationship with her boyfriend remains complicated and is seen having to be a responsible parent looking after her baby instead of enjoying her teen years.

Georgia Arnold, executive director, MTV Staying Alive Foundation, said, "Sixteen and Pregnant highlights the many societal, economic and health challenges faced by pregnant teenage girls – from a lack of basic sex education to peer pressure, health problems, parental disapproval, unwanted responsibility, a lack of money, stigma/community gossip, the difficulty of continuing an education, facing life as a single parent, and fears about how to raise the baby.

"By highlighting the sacrifices they are obliged to make, and the hurdles they have to overcome, we hope to encourage them to take control of their lives and bodies by helping them to make more informed choices about sex, sexual health and contraception."

While Whitney Chinogwenya, brand and communications lead at Marie Stopes SA added: “We hear a lot about young women and pregnancy in South Africa but not enough about the complexities of young people’s experiences and the role we all have to play in creating a truly enabling environment for teens growing up today."

On Twitter, viewers were torn on whether the show would indeed be a deterrent against teen pregnancy or if it merely glamorised it.

@NtuliMbhali tweeted:" #16andPregnant this should not even be aired, more especially in South Africa. Kids in SA are gonna want their minutes of stupid fame"

While @Rodneyboh tweeted: "#16andPregnant are they promoting pregnancy South Africa love to copy so now our lil (sic) sister has to be preg, why mtv"

@Hlatsii tweeted: "I pray 16 year olds out here don't go out and get pregnant just for the show because being a teen mom is difficult", while @Omuhle_Gela tweeted, "#16andPregnant SA is hopefully an eye-opener for young girls out there".

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