MEC of Education Senzon Mchunu.Picture Zanele Zulu,13/06/2012

Schoolgirls are falling pregnant in their thousands in KwaZulu-Natal and, in the majority of cases, the men to blame are their teachers, Education MEC Senzo Mchunu said in Durban on Wednesday night.

Mchunu was speaking at a joint media briefing with Childline and the Department of Health held at a beachfront hotel.

“We are in a crisis in this province,” he said.

In 2010 and 2011, 12 971 KZN schoolgirls fell pregnant, and this year the figures looked like they would be as shocking.

“Our children are very vulnerable today. It is ugly,” the MEC said.

Increasingly it was reported that male teachers were the ones forcing themselves on the young girls in their care.

Mchunu said a father had phoned him crying.

“He told me his daughter had been taken for the weekend by a teacher. The teacher raped the child and paid her mother R5 000. The mother accepted the money,” he said.

The child’s father begged him to intervene.

“I am the Education MEC and these are my children as well,” he said.

In another incident, a head of department at a school in Empangeni picked up a 14-year-old pupil in his car, took her into the bush, and then raped her.

“The child cried and cried, but he continued… eventually people and police caught him red-handed on top of her,” the MEC said.

Mchunu said he had dismissed a number of teachers this year who were involved in love affairs with pupils but, instead of abating, the trend seemed to be getting worse.

“The purpose of this meeting is to develop an action plan that will focus on awareness and support programmes for pupils, teachers and the community, and will be targeted at reducing the incidence of all forms of exploitation and abuse of children,” said Mchunu.

Some of the startling figures that he presented were:

* 465 pupils are already pregnant in the Uthungulu district this year.

In 2010/11, the statistics show that:

* 1 263 schoolgirls fell pregnant in the Pinetown district.

* 1 193 were pregnant in the uMlazi district.

* 1 725 were pregnant in Vryheid.

* 1 383 were pregnant in Empangeni.

“The premier (Zweli Mkhize) recently went to a Vryheid high school and called me after discovering that 60 pupils were pregnant,” he said.

The Department of Education was not mandated to look at issues of abuse in schools or sexual relationships between pupils and teachers, Mchunu said.

“Our job is to ensure teaching is done. But now we have to worry about these alarming issues.”

Themba Ndlovu, from the SA Council for Educators, said parents needed to get involved.

“Some parents tell us not to get involved. Some are clearly being bribed by teachers, and that brings us (the profession) into disrepute.”

Linda Naidoo, the director of Childline, said the statistics were alarming.

“We (KZN) have one the highest numbers of children calling us,” she said.

The South African Democratic Teachers’ Union said the issue could not be resolved in schools, but had to be sorted out at home. However, parents were absent and communities abusive.

The union’s provincial secretary, Mbuyiseni Mathonsi, said the statistics were not surprising, owing to the number of families without parents and the lack of education at home.

“We are dealing with child-headed families. These children leave school at 2pm and return home to a community that is aggressive and abusive.”

He said many homes were without parents, as they worked elsewhere in the country.

Mathonsi, who described the situation as horrible, said children were not being taught about sex at home.

Speaking on the government allowing pregnant pupils to be at school, Mathonsi said that this had backfired, because it was giving the message that it was okay to be pregnant and still attend class.

“Pupils are not falling pregnant in school – it is happening outside school.”

He urged the MEC to consider employing full-time nurses at schools to look after pregnant pupils, and to remove the burden from teachers.

In his view, teachers impregnating pupils were isolated incidents, but the union would call upon the full strength of the law if one of their members was found guilty of raping a pupil.

Cathy Callaghan of the Governors’ Alliance, an umbrella body of school governing bodies, agreed the problem was at home, saying that it was the parents’ job to teach children to be responsible.

She said the fact that girls were so young meant that the guilty men should be charged with statutory rape.

“The authorities are not following up on each case. The state also needs to intervene and ensure all pupils are counselled, especially if they have been raped.”

Callaghan said every school should have a system allowing pupils to report being raped.

“It can be difficult in rural areas, but the school should be a safe haven for its pupils.”

She added that those teachers found guilty should be stripped of their teaching accreditation and reported to the police.

It was not uncommon to hear of children being sold for cash in areas where poverty was rampant.

“If a parent takes money out of their child, they are equally as guilty as the offender and must also be charged,” she said.

The South African Principals’ Association declined to comment on the issue when contacted on Wednesday night. - The Mercury