Durban - In a desperate bid to address the alarming rate of pregnancy at schools which has seen more than 15 000 schoolgirls getting pregnant in a year, the government has proposed teaching pupils about pregnancy termination, and the morning-after pill.
The public has until the end of next month to comment on the Basic Education Department’s draft policy on the prevention and management of pupils’ pregnancy.
The proposal has caused quite a stir in the education sector, with some stakeholders calling on the government to reconsider while others have given the proposal the thumbs-up.
The proposed policy ushers in what is internationally known as Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE).
“The CSE should include counselling on the range of options, including the choice of termination of pregnancy,” the draft policy said.
Also, this form of education upholds the rights of pupils who are already pregnant not to be excluded from school.
“It is important to recognise that, while many learner pregnancies are likely to have occurred as a result of consensual sex, some learner pregnancies may have resulted from non-consensual sex which is legally defined as rape,” the draft said.
New data showed that an alarming 15740 schoolgirls, some of whom were in Grades 3, 4 and 5, got pregnant in 2015.
Unwanted pregnancies robbed female pupils of a chance to attain life-changing education, the department said.
“It impacts the lives of thousands of young people, often limiting their personal growth, the pursuit of rewarding careers and their ambitions, with incalculable impact on South Africa’s socio- economic systems.”
The department said its proposed policy sought to “ensure the accessible provision of information” on measures such as choice of termination of pregnancy, prevention of pregnancy, and counselling and support of pregnant schoolgirls.
The health department would be roped in to “provide access to contraceptive services through direct linkages with local clinics”.
“The Department of Health will also provide information on access to emergency contraception (the morning-after pill), the choice of termination of pregnancy and access to these services.”
The National Association of School Governing Bodies (NASGB) said it had a problem with the proposal.
The association’s general secretary, Matakanye Matakanye, said: “As parents we support teaching of sexuality. But we have a problem where we talk about termination and contraceptives.
“It’s just that we don’t have powers as parents. If we had powers, we’d be approaching it by saying you should only have sex when you’re ready.”
Reverend Ian Booth, the chair- person, Diakonia Council of Churches, said the policy was “unfortunately, a necessary move” if the statistics on teenage pregnancy were to be taken into consideration.
“As a moral choice, we would rather not have to address such issues with schoolchildren, but the statistics are frightening and if what they are proposing is a way of bringing those numbers down, then its a positive thing.”
Although abortion would always be a contentious issue when it came to religions, Booth said as it was permitted in the country, perhaps providing information as envisaged in the policy would mitigate the risks associated with backdoor abortions “just to avoid being found out”.
Gender activist and JL (John Langalibalele) Dube chairperson in rural education at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Professor Lebo Moletsane, said this was a good move.
“This is good as it could save lives in terms of avoiding unsafe abortions, and around young people having unwanted or unplanned pregnancies and the consequences thereof.”
But Molestane warned that this would only work if it was approached correctly and key to that was the training of teachers.
Teacher union Sadtu threw its weight behind providing education on contraceptives and pregnancy termination in schools.
“At the end of the day it’s just information. We’re not conducting abortion as schools, but providing information,” Sadtu general- secretary Mugwena Maluleke said.
Maluleke said the alarming rate of pupils pregnancy needed intervention: “To arrest it, we have to use education to share information.”
Vee Gani of the KZN Parents Association said while he was not aware of the full details of the proposed policy, he supported it on the basis that would be educating pupils.
“We have a major problem with learners falling pregnant, but I believe that this should not just be the department’s policy. It should have a holistic approach that includes communities because learners come from communities, parents should also play an important role in this process,” he said.
He said it was important to include both genders in this issue, “While girls are the once’s mostly affected by pregnancy, the boys also have a role to play in this process.” Freedom of Religion SA echoed the NASGB’s sentiments, saying termination of pregnancy should not be presented as a first option to schoolgirls.
Michael Swain, the group’s executive director, said: “Obviously, it’s important for children to understand pregnancy and how to avoid an unwanted pregnancy.
“What we believe is a negative thing is when abortion is put forward as well, (that) if you do fall pregnant then the first option that you have is abortion.
“We believe the first thing that should be taught is to avoid pregnancy, either through contraception teaching or by abstinence.
“There are also other options to look into, like putting the child up for adoption or foster care,” Swain said.