11/05/05 School kids and teen pregnancy. pic Lebohang Mashiloane
11/05/05 School kids and teen pregnancy. pic Lebohang Mashiloane

Policy protects girls’ right to learn

By Opinion Time of article published Oct 19, 2021

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Education is a crucial cog in the attainment of a better future for young people. However, learner pregnancy often derails the dreams and ambitions of vulnerable young girls for a brighter future.

The latest alarmingly high rate of learner pregnancy in schools is a cause for immense concern and should impel us to provide the necessary support to our schoolgirls.

According to recent statistics released by the Gauteng Department of Health, about 23 000 schoolgirls fell pregnant between April 2020 and March 2021. This means almost 2 000 schoolgirls fell pregnant within a month, and more alarming is that some were as young as 10 years old.

This disturbing phenomenon raises questions about the moral fibre of our society, as in some cases older men have been found to be responsible for perpetuating learner and teenage pregnancy by sexually violating young girls with impunity.

The National Policy on the Prevention and Management of Learner Pregnancy in Schools, recently approved by Cabinet to manage teenage pregnancy in schools, will sadly not tackle the sexual violation of children outside of the school premises.

The new policy, which responded to the 2012 court judgment that ruled against the Department of Basic Education on certain clauses that called for learners to take leave of absence from school for up to two years post-delivery, seeks to mitigate the underlying causes of teenage pregnancy. These include a lack of information and access to reproductive health services, cultural norms, peer pressure, sexual coercion, abuse and poverty.

Owing to the stigma attached to falling pregnant while at school, a number of young girls eventually drop out of school. Historical evidence shows that adolescent girls who fell pregnant while at school face many social and financial barriers later in their lives, struggling to continue with formal education.

The policy allows for a supportive environment and inhibits prejudice against pregnant learners. It enshrines the right to education for all girls regardless of their motherhood status.

In terms of the policy, learners will be provided with access to comprehensive pregnancy prevention information, counselling, guidelines and care, as well as the setting up of policy management and co-related structures.

The policy obliges schools to provide all the necessary learning tools for girls who are home before giving birth and after birth. It also takes into consideration the emotional impact pregnancy may have on learners. For some learners, pregnancy leaves behind guilt, confusion and a sense of shame.

This policy further supports South Africa’s drive to meet the continent’s obligation under the AU’s Agenda 2063 to, among other things, end child marriages, introduce comprehensive sexuality and reproductive health education, and address the high rate of teenage pregnancy.

While policies are not a panacea to solve teenage pregnancy beyond the schooling environment, “it takes a village to raise a child”, as proclaimed by an African proverb.

Communities, particularly parents, must ensure that children understand their sexuality and importantly, adult men should embrace their societal role of raising and protecting children without taking advantage of their vulnerability. The sexual violation of children is a crime and should be frown upon by all of us.

Young girls are often coerced into having sexual relationships with older men against their will. No man should be allowed to violate a minor under the guise of having been given permission to marry her by the parents.

Communities should exercise due vigilance against this immoral behaviour and suppress it before it persists unabated, by reporting perpetrators of sexual assault on minors to relevant authorities such as the police.

The Department of Social Development, in collaboration with nongovernmental organisations, recently also embarked on an outreach programme to create sexual awareness and encourage open discussion among high school learners.

Let us empower young people, especially girls, with education and create a conducive environment for them to complete their formal education and secure a better future for themselves. Pregnancy should never be the end of the future of these teenage mothers.

Undoubtedly, learner pregnancy negatively impacts the work of the government of ensuring that education remains the cornerstone of safeguarding the future of our youth.

All interventions by the government to sustain the provision of education to youth adhere to Section 29(1) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa 1996, which states that “everyone has the right to a basic education, including adult basic education and to further education, which the state, through reasonable measures, must make progressively available and accessible”.

Another African proverb asserts that “if you educate a man, you educate an individual. But if you educate a woman, you educate a nation.” Our country has an obligation to support the girl child to navigate through the education system because education is one of the critical pillars of socio-economic development in any country.

We must all strive to protect and empower the girl child.

*Phumla Williams is the Cabinet’s spokesperson and Director General of Government Communications and Information Systems.

**The views expressed here may not be that of IOL.

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