Cape Town - The Western Cape has an epidemic of a different kind on its hands. Children having children.
The provincial department of health said 11 085 girls between the ages of 10 and 19 delivered babies in public facilities last year.
Of this number, 388 are girls aged between 10 and 14 years old. A further 10 697 deliveries were by those aged between 15 and 19 years old. This was confirmed by Western Cape Health spokesperson Mark van der Heever.
There is no data of how old the fathers are who made these girls pregnant.
In 2016, Ayabulela Chainis (not her real name) was in Grade 11 when she fell pregnant. Chainis said she knew about the dangers of unprotected sex, but peer pressure influenced her decision-making.
“My parents and teachers were always talking about the dangers,” she said. “I was naive and did not think it would go that far (me getting pregnant). Everyone around me was always talking about sex. It became attractive. Also, social media normalised sexual relationships, and I did not want to be left out.”
She said her body and her life changed.
“I was lucky because I have a family that supports me, but I do not wish pregnancy on any teen. You can no longer be a child and enjoy childhood. Teenage pregnancy is not okay. Society should not have normalised it.”
She returned to school after her delivery and is now at college. Others do not enjoy the same support and never return to high school.
The Department of Basic Education introduced a policy for schools to report to the police should a girl younger than 16 fall pregnant if they are impregnated by someone older than them.
WCED spokesperson Bronagh Hammond said their district specialised support teams provide psycho-social support to the learners and aim to ensure that they return to school after the delivery of the baby.
“It is very important for learners to complete their education. Learner pregnancy prevention programmes are also rendered from the social work components. Sexual education in schools is focused on prevention and making the right choices.”
Hammond added that the importance of providing children with the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values regarding their sexuality and the accompanying social responsibilities, especially the learning area.
“Life Orientation cannot be over-emphasised. The principle that it is best for learners to abstain from sexual activity should be stressed. Educators emphasise the importance of good moral values should be the backbone of sexual education.”
Professor Deevia Bhana, South African Research Chair (SARChI): Gender and Childhood Sexuality at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said at the heart of the matter is sex and sexuality. “And when these issues are associated with children, they remain silenced, avoided or addressed in ways that avoid what children need and want.”
He continued to say that one of the main problems is targeting and blaming girls for early child-bearing, and they are made responsible without understanding how power relations, intergenerational hierarchies, cultural norms and gender create particular risks.
“If we are to address the problem, we need to have a multi-pronged approach that deals with sex and sexuality education that goes beyond the danger discourse but its alert to sexuality as a key part of love enjoyment and pleasure even if adults do not agree with this conceptualisation of sexuality. The evidence suggests that we need to revolutionalise our thinking about childhood sexuality.”
She also called for state departments (Department of Basic Education, Social Development and Police Services) to combine their resources to monitor, prevent and support young mothers.
“How many of these cases are consensual, and this needs to be seen in the light of the law and those girls under the age of 12? We need to address children as sexual beings, with desires, and we as adults need to accept that sex and sexuality are part of the life course, and perhaps, if we remove the taboos around childhood sexuality, we may have more openness and willingness to create the awareness build the knowledge and increase our response to sexual and reproductive health and rights to all children even those under ten.”
The age of consent is 16. The Criminal Law Sexual Offences and Related Matters Act (2015) makes provision for children who are between the ages of 12 and 15 so that they will not automatically be prosecuted for having sex below the age of consent. If one child is between 12 and 15 years and the other is 16 or 17, and there is no more than a two-year age gap between them, they will not be automatically prosecuted.