By Stephanie Saville

Teenage pregnancies in schools are rising every year, with the latest statistics showing that pregnancy as a result of sexual abuse was more and more prevalent.

Multiple reasons for the growing number of pregnant teenage girls in schools were heard at a department of education provincial summit on the topic held in Pietermaritzburg on Tuesday.

Research on teenage pregnancies at 120 schools was presented at the summit, which revealed that factors included peer pressure, poverty and media influence.

The survey showed that 887 girls had fallen pregnant in 2006. In 2005 the figure was 727 teen pregnancies and in 2004, 632. In 2004, 43 girls reported being pregnant because of sexual abuse. In 2006, the figure had risen to 60.

The age at which most girls fell pregnant was 16. Girls as young as 11 were found to be pregnant.

Goodness Buthelezi, a teacher at the Kuneningi Primary farm school in Pongola, said she had found that girls between the ages of 11 and 14 had become embroiled in love affairs. "They then fall pregnant."

She said parents, who often worked long hours, were unavailable to supervise their children. She said the department needed to step in with more specialised education for the girls to prevent pregnancies.

The report also found that poverty led to teenage pregnancies. "In most cases parents are unemployed and therefore they turn a blind eye when the girl is impregnated by a working partner who will in turn become a breadwinner for the family."

Peer pressure contributed too and girls became pregnant to conform with the norm of being sexually active.

"Drug addiction and having a baby while still at school were found to be fashionable."

Girls interviewed for the survey complained that clinic staff were intimidating and made it difficult to collect condoms and contraceptive pills.

And the media did not escape blame, with the report finding that easy access to pornographic and adult television programmes and explicit multimedia text messages and Internet content contributed to the increase.

Life skills programmes at schools sometimes tended to produce the opposite behaviour, encouraging teenagers to experiment with drugs and unsafe sex.

Policy that allowed pregnant girls to continue attending school was also held responsible for the rise in pregnancies, as girls were no longer expelled and did not have to face the threat of an end to their school days.

The summit included discussions on issues raised during the research, such as cultural, religious, financial and other influences on teenage pregnancy, as well as the role of schools.

These discussions aimed to help to inform the department's pupil pregnancy policy.

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