Johannesburg - The pregnancy of schoolgirls is back on the agenda of the government after the ANC has re-asserted the right of pregnant teenage learners to continue with their studies until they have completed them.
In the discussion documents of the ruling party released this week before its national general council – a mid-term policy review conference – the ANC has thrown the matter back in the hands of provinces.
The ruling party has proposed that “intervention measures” be put in place to reduce the levels of pregnancy in schools.
However, it strongly objects to the exclusion of learners from school once they fall pregnant.
“The Department of Basic Education and provincial education departments are implementing a comprehensive programme focusing on sexual reproductive health and education outcomes to keep girls in schools,” says the discussion document.
During the 2013/14 financial year alone there were almost 21 000 pregnant schoolgirls across the country with the majority from Gauteng.
Out of all provinces Gauteng had more than 5 209 pregnant teens followed by Mpumalanga with 3 196 and KwaZulu-Natal with 2 993.
The discussion document adds that the Department of Basic Education has to give progress reports on this matter.
This was in response to another policy initiative to curb school pregnancy by introducing intervention measures.
“The Department of Basic Education has come up with a draft policy for the prevention and management of learner pregnancy,” says the document.
“This policy is an alternative to the previous policy that punished learners for falling pregnant,” it continues.
“The proposed new policy considered the rights of the learner to education, dignity and the right to privacy,” adds the document.
This policy was to be sent to all the provincial departments of education.
The ruling party maintains that there are no objectionable facts on why pregnant learners should be denied the right to go to school.
There has been concern from various advocacy groups on the high rate of pregnancy among schoolgirls and for the government to exclude them from school until they have given birth.
But the Deputy Minister of Basic Education, Enver Surty, asserted this policy of keeping pregnant learners at school.
In Parliament this week Surty told MPs, during question time to ministers in the social cluster, that there would be no basis for the government to keep pregnant learners out of school.
Instead, the focus for the government was on sex education to bring down the high level of pregnancy among young girls.
The discussion document has called for provinces to engage frankly with the policy draft on learner pregnancy.
School pregnancy has also been under serious discussion recently after the Minister of Basic Education released figures on the pregnancy rate in Parliament in March.
The government is under pressure to reduce the high level of pregnancy among schoolgirls.
The almost 21 000 learners who fell pregnant last year was a serious cause for concern.
The government is also concerned by “sugar daddies” who use cash as an inducement to tempt schoolgirls into having sex.
In KwaZulu-Natal, the provincial government has introduced a media campaign to warn teenage girls to avoid such men.