Durban - South Africa has a huge teenage pregnancy problem, with girls as young as 10 routinely falling pregnant.

Professor Akim Mturi of the North-West University presented a talk “Is South Africa on track to win the war against teenage pregnancy?” at the 10th annual Population Association of Southern Africa conference held at the University of KwaZulu-Natal this week.

Presenting his research from 2007 to 2013, Mturi said in 2013, 22 286 girls had fallen pregnant, slightly fewer than in 2012 when 29 966 girls were pregnant while at school.

In 2011, 36 702 teenagers were pregnant, compared with 45 276 in 2010. The girls were as young as 10 (in Grade 3) and as old as 19 (in Grade 12).

Despite the decrease over the years, the figures were still alarming. Mturi said his qualitative study found that most girls fell pregnant “by mistake” or a result of external pressure from peers and partners.

He said the use of contraceptives was rare for young women who had not borne a child, with most interviewed having a negative attitude towards abortion.

The majority of the participants were still attending school when they got pregnant.

“Teenage pregnancy is a social, economic and health challenge in many countries, both developed and developing. The UN Population Fund reports that 7.3 million girls under the age of 18 give birth every year in developing countries.”

He said the objective of the study was to evaluate the trend of teenage pregnancy in South Africa and assess government initiatives to deal with the issue.

He also hoped to provide suggestions that would help in winning the war against teenage pregnancy.

Mturi said in South Africa the effect of the apartheid system (labour migration, fragmented family structures, poverty and inequality) meant black girls and boys, especially in rural areas, still grew up facing a number of challenges.

As a result they started having sex early, unaccompanied by contraceptive use.

He acknowledged the government’s efforts to deal with the issue by introducing life orientation programmes at schools, and allowing pregnant girls to attend, and to return to complete their schooling after giving birth

Mturi added the government also provided family planning services without any restrictions, and legalised induced abortion.

However, more needed to be done to win the war against teenage pregnancy.

“The curriculum of the life orientation in schools is being revamped and the importance of communication between parents and their teenagers on sexual matters should be reinforced.

“Provision of family planning services to teenagers needs to be improved.

“The negative attitude to induced abortion among teenagers needs to be changed. They should be made responsible for their actions,” he said.

[email protected]

Sunday Tribune