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Urgent action needed over alarming underage pregnancies in North West

Illustration of teenage pregnancy. Picture: Jennifer Bruce

Illustration of teenage pregnancy. Picture: Jennifer Bruce

Published Jul 3, 2022

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Johannesburg - The alarming rate of children falling pregnant in the North West has the DA and the Department of Social Department at loggerheads over what needs to be done.

This was after the provincial Department of Health revealed that it had recorded 415 deliveries from girls aged between 10 and 14 from April 2020. During the same period, the department recorded 19 398 deliveries from girls aged between 15 and 19.

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The DA has called on the department to step up and help young girls to prevent any forms of sexual influence, abuse and exploitation, saying that offenders must face prosecution for rape.

The party's health spokesperson in North West, Gavin Edwards, said the Department of Social Development needed to craft meaningful social plans to identify and deal with this problem. He said the department must also create an avenue to assist the young girls.

“Sex with underage girls must be stopped through awareness campaigns. No is no, no sex for favours. Law enforcement must act swiftly and aggressively on statutory rape cases. We do not find Social Development running any meaningful awareness or social programmes to prevent this and assist girls in knowing their rights,” said Edwards.

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He said the DA was deeply concerned by these statistics, adding that pregnancies were a major concern in the North West, especially where there were allegations of statutory rape.

“Pregnancies at such an early age are associated with significant health risks, including complications at delivery and pregnancy hypertensive disorders. Low birth weight, post-natal depression and anaemia are some other complications in teenage pregnancies.”

Edwards added that the DA would demand the Department of Social Development outline its intervention measures to deal with this crisis. He said the party would also request the Health Department to provide the locations where these deliveries took place.

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Asked what the department was doing about the situation, Social Development spokesperson Lumka Oliphant referred questions to Petrus Siko, the spokesperson for the Department of Social Development in the North West.

Siko said questions should be sent to the Health Department, saying that they did an interview on the same question with some local radio stations. Health Department spokesperson Tebogo Lekgethwane did not respond.

In 2004, the Pretoria High Court ruled that girls under 18 can have abortions without parental consent. And in October last year, the national Health Department announced that children aged 12 and older would not need parental consent to get vaccinated, adding that they were allowed to make medical decisions independently.

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Psychologists believe this freedom has also added to the situation in the North West. Educational psychologist Heilletje de Villiers said the government decision had exacerbated the problem.

“The emotional intelligence of children at those ages is still developing daily. They are also battling with learning to know themselves better - their self-concept is formed depending on how their friends and significant others relate to or respond to them. Therefore, most of them are not emotionally ready to make such decisions. Their decisions will be based on using their feelings, and not logical thinking and reasoning,” she said.

De Villiers added: “They also have problems with peer pressure and someone struggling with something like that battles to make the best choices about important decisions. Moral values learned at home also have an impact on it.”

She said parents should implement barriers and rules for their children. “For example, being at home at a specific time. No girl goes into a boy’s room, and no boy goes into a girl’s room."

Sikhona Therapy educational psychologist Susan Schoeman said several factors had added to the problem.

“Unfortunately, many parents in South Africa are uninvolved and unreliable. Many children are required to ‘grow up quickly’ and be independent due to the nature and challenges of their circumstances.

“By giving children more rights, we are empowering the powerless and helpless. However, this is only effective if a child can understand the responsibility of their rights and make informed decisions.

“This could also widen the gap between parents and children regarding the involved parent - which is unhelpful and potentially damaging,” she said.

Schoeman added that boundaries and structure were needed and helpful, but only if they were established and rooted in love and a healthy parent-child relationship.

She said parents needed to be encouraged and equipped to establish healthy and caring relationships with their children where they can provide guidance and support when children are engaging in risky behaviours.

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