By Ilse Fredericks

Education Writer

The national Department of Basic Education is investigating how the Western Cape could have had more pregnant schoolgirls in grades 3 and 4 than in grades 11 and 12 during the 2006 and 2007 school years.

A new report compiled by the department shows that in 2006, 10 Grade 3 pupils and 26 Grade 4 pupils fell pregnant in the Western Cape, compared to one Grade 11 pupil and three matriculants.

The Report on the Annual School Survey 2010 showed that in 2007, 18 Grade 3 girls and 22 Grade 4 girls fell pregnant, compared with five Grade 11s and eight matriculants.

The phenomenon appeared to be limited to the Western Cape.

In Gauteng, 937 matrics and 1 240 Grade 11 girls fell pregnant in 2007 while three pregnancies in Grade 4 and 11 in Grade 3 were reported.

The report, published last month, is based on data that the department collected through its annual school surveys in 2007 and in 2008.

In these two years, schools were asked, among other things, to report on the number of pupil pregnancies they had in the previous year.

The report stated that the intermediate phase (grades 4 to 6) showed "disturbing figures" of pupil pregnancies.

In the Western Cape there were 55 pregnant Grade 5 pupils in 2006 and 58 the next year.

There were also 171 Grade 6 girls who fell pregnant in 2006 and 126 the following year.

The report did not specify the ages of the girls surveyed.

Childline SA co-ordinator Joan van Niekerk said abuse would definitely have been involved in several of the cases.

She said children under the age of 12 could not consent to sex and a pregnancy in young children could compromise their physical as well as emotional health.

"If these cases (involving younger children) are reported, the child protection and welfare system kick in.

"The child would be offered the necessary counselling and other support. If not, the child will receive no service and this is a concern,"

Patric Solomons, director of child rights NGO Molo Songololo, and Van Niekerk said it was possible that the Grade 11 and 12 pregnancies in the province had been underreported.

They said pupils in these grades might have dropped out of school before the pregnancy had been declared or may have terminated their pregnancies.

Dr Granville Whittle, a spokesman for the Department of Basic Education, said that when younger pupils fell pregnant, the department insisted that schools report this to the relevant authorities.

He said the department was looking into why there were more pregnancies in grades 3 and 4 than grades 11 and 12 and also believed there could have been underreporting in the senior grades.

"This issue would be further examined in the next report."

Bronagh Casey, spokesperson for Education MEC Donald Grant, said the figures cited in the report were a cause for concern.

She said the Western Cape Education Department had developed and implemented a policy for pupils who fall pregnant.