Durban — The blame for underage pregnancies lay with government, which has given children too many rights at the expense of parents’ authority, said Zulu cultural activist Nomagugu Ngobese.
She has called on the public, teachers, doctors and nurses to report such pregnancies to the police, so the men responsible can be charged with rape or statutory rape.
“Even parents who accept inhlawulo (payment for a pregnancy outside of marriage) instead of laying charges, should also be arrested because such parents are accessories to the crime,” she said.
Ngobese was reacting to reports that 145 teenagers countrywide had given birth on December 25 to “Christmas babies”, many of whom were born in KwaZulu-Natal.
“These children get pregnant because they are a law unto themselves as a result of government policies.
“The girls who listened to the government are the ones that are giving birth,” said Ngobese.
Health MEC Nomagugu Simelane said there were 49 babies born to teenage mothers among the 255 “Christmas babies” delivered at public health facilities in the province. The teenage mothers included one aged 14; seven aged 16; 11 aged 17; 11 aged 18; and 20 aged 19.
On New Year’s Day, 50 teen mothers gave birth in the province.
They included six aged 15; three aged 16, 11 aged 17; 11 aged 18; and, 18 who were 19. The number of births on the day was 260.
According to reports, of the 88 122 schoolgirls who gave birth in hospitals nationally during the 2022/2023 financial year, of which 25239 were in KwaZulu-Natal.
In 2021, Stats SA figures showed 33 899 births occurred to mothers aged 17 and younger, and that more than “600 children aged 10-13 years gave birth in 2020”.
Laying criminal charges against adult men seems to have its own challenges. A health official, who declined to be named, said this was because parents of the young mothers “would be concerned that perpetrators would not be able to support the child if they were arrested”.
Ngobese said the trouble started “when the government introduced condoms in schools”, and also allowed 12-year-old girls to have an abortion.
“This undermined the authority of the parents,” she said.
Her view is in sharp contrast with Simelane’s call for parents to provide condoms to their children, including girls who are sexually active and do not abstain.
“I’ve personally provided condoms to my daughter because it’s our role as parents to initiate these conversations,” Simelane said.
“Encouraging your daughter to utilise cost-free contraceptives at our facilities is an option,” said she in a speech at Newcastle Hospital on December 25.
Ngobese leads a cultural group called the Nomkhubulwane Institute, which conducts virginity testing and encourages girls to abstain until they are “old enough”.
She believes that what children are taught in school about sex goes against African culture.
“The girls who are raised through virginity testing grow up properly and they focus on education. This is because they observe their customs and they love themselves, despite witnessing all kinds of social ills.”
Ngobese said that to stop child pregnancy, the government should review and reverse policies that give too many rights to children. She also called on schools to stop teaching about condoms and abortion as she felt that influenced children to experience sex.
“We have been telling the government during meetings that the school should be for pure children and not for mothers.
“The children who are already mothers should attend adult education schools so they won’t mix with clean children,” said Ngobese.
Rape Crisis Centre (RCC) director Berenice Jacobs said that while her organisation denounced child pregnancy, it did not agree with Ngobese’s call for young mothers to be prevented from attending normal schools.
“They should not be discriminated against,” said Jacobs.
Girls who gave birth at a young age suffered psychological effects.
Although she could not give figures, Jacobs said RCC received many cases through Thuthuzela Care Centre (TCC) of young girls aged 16 and 17 who had been sexually abused.
“What is lacking in our society or in our schools is educating children from primary level as children start to experiment.
“There should be sexual education because we can no longer say the children don’t know what is sex. Therefore, the government should start an education programme at primary level in terms of what is sex, what is rape, what is gender-based violence, how to look after your body, and what are the consequences of having sex,” said Jacobs.
She also encouraged parents to lay charges of rape and statutory rape against men who impregnated children.
KZN Social Development spokesperson Mhlabunzima Memela said the Children’s Act mandated any official who dealt with children “to report child abuse, neglect and exploitation”.
“It is not the responsibility of departments of Social Development and Health only.
“Everyone must report teen pregnancies, including teachers, parents, caregivers, religious leaders and traditional leaders, to mention but a few,” said Memela.
Memela could not put a figure on what child pregnancies cost the state in child support grants.
“Although it is difficult to quantify the amount, there are definitely financial implications.
“One would generally expect an increase in uptake in the application of child support grant as a result of new babies being born, especially by teen mothers who would not have the means to care for the baby,” said Memela.
He said underage mothers normally went through self-destructive behaviour, such as substance abuse, binge drinking, drugs and partying.
“Becoming a teen parent can also affect their educational needs as they have to find a balance between studying and parenting.
“Teenagers need to be aware that becoming a parent while still young may take away their social life because they have to look after a child,” said Memela.