On Tuesday the 26th of September, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and KZN Christian Council were joined in Ugu District by Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), Traditional Leaders, representatives of the Department of Social Development, the Department of Health, and Faith leaders to engage on the reasons of child and adolescent pregnancies, their repercussions, and the potential solutions to this pandemic-level social crisis.
The dialogue started by summarizing the crisis situation of child and teenage pregnancies, femicides, serial killers, gender-based violence and lack of information as well as the lack of services needed by the youths. This was intricately connected with unequal power relations and sexism, which play a crucial influence in the district’s rising rates of child and teen pregnancy. An estimated 21 000 young girls in KZN became pregnant, and there is widespread worry about the province’s high pregnancy rate among females under the age of 15. Children as young as 9 years old are now included in the statistics of minors who bear children. In the Ugu district, children aged between 10 to 14 accounted for 60 births, while those aged between 15 to 19 accounted for 2,511 births. Notable is the fact that neither Termination of Pregnancy (TOP) data nor traditional births are included in these deliveries. Given these disconcerting numbers, the question of what may be done differently naturally emerges.
Women have been viewed as second-class citizens and “men’s property” for the entirety of recorded history. Due to the Constitution, humanity today resides in a society where all citizens are presumed to be equal before the law. However, the community input from the child mothers suggested that women and children continue to be viewed as weak, inferior victims of abuse. Moreso, one would expect that the social problem of child and adolescent pregnancies would reduce with the existence of Legislation addressing violence and abuse of women and children, and with the South African Constitution being considered one of the most progressive in the world. The number of minors who had given birth by the conclusion of the fiscal year in 2021 demonstrates that statistics regarding adolescent pregnancies in KwaZulu Natal and South Africa are still quite alarming.
The dialogue revealed that child and adolescent pregnancies are typically attributed to a lack of moral fiber among rapists. Participants in the discussion argued that young women are therefore susceptible to men who seek sexual pleasure from them while ignoring their age, resulting in unintended and untimely pregnancies. It was noted that, some minors begin engaging in sexual activity as early as the age of nine, and the prevalence of poverty and unemployment in rural and farm areas is to blame. Poverty was highlighted as a big factor in why young women seek for sugar daddies in exchange for financial favors. Girls in the dialogue expressed that this survival-consumption-driven behavior meant that they cannot negotiate safe sex practices, which leads to intimate partner violence, catching diseases, unintended pregnancies, school dropout, and drug addiction.
The delegation from the Department of Health shared that low, inconsistent, and incorrect use of contraceptives; limited number of healthcare practitioners and healthcare facilities; poor attitudes and behaviors of healthcare workers; and inadequate sexual and reproductive health (SRH) information are just some of the factors that contribute to the high rate of teenage pregnancies in South Africa. The presenter emphasized that Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights are not limited to women but also include men.
There was consensus amongst those participating in the discussion that adolescent girls are encouraged to adopt a sexually permissive stance rather than encouraged to practice abstinence. It was agreed that teenage girls should be educated on the benefits of abstinence and the significance of prioritizing the most important things before they are provided contraception, as was argued during the dialogue. They may be putting their time and energy into considerably more productive endeavors during their formative teenage years. Evidently, family planning is not for children; rather, they should plan their future with education, information, and self-sufficiency as the priority.
Causes of pregnancy in girl child pregnancies are as follows:
- Poverty and high unemployment rates result in transactional sex.
- Lack of education, knowledge, and awareness, particularly among girls from child-headed or dysfunctional homes. Moreover, family disorganization encourages individuals to engage in aberrant behavior.
- A judicial system without severe punishments to dissuade criminals.
- A society devoid of public values, ethics, and principles that no longer pressures individuals to conform to the values and ethics we prefer.
- The widespread societal and familial disintegration has put the girl child at risk of rape, abuse, and poor influence, as well as the likelihood of losing track and becoming pregnant or abusing drugs and falling through the cracks.
- The ever-increasing instances of rape and violence against girls, women and grandmothers.
- For young girls, there is a dearth of positive role models and nurturing environments.
- Lack of information on pregnancy prevention
- Cultural practices that allow child marriages
- Government laws that expose children to sex education without exposure to morality and protection by society.
Although having children is a blessing, it is important to mention that the adolescent mothers and their families have shared terrible experiences about the hardships they have faced as a result of giving birth so young. Mrs. Chiliza, the grandmother of one of the teenage mothers present at the dialogue, expressed her anguish on the edge of tears as she recalled how her granddaughter’s status as a teenage mother placed pressure on her as well, since she must care for the child with both the mother and father absent. Additionally, Mrs. Chiliza highlighted how she does not know who impregnated her granddaughter. Notably, such assertions bolster the statistics on the fact that obtaining knowledge about the fathers remains the greatest obstacle. A substantial number of births documented in 2021 lacked information regarding the father’s identity, making it impossible to collect meaningful data on fathers. It’s also worth noting that the province of KwaZulu Natal has a dismal record when it comes to registering new births.
In addition, a heartbroken mother revealed the horrific facts of her 15-year-old daughter’s presumed rape at a dumping site at night. She went on to say that because her daughter was underage and so required parental or guardian authorization, she was not able to receive the treatments she needed to terminate the pregnancy. This depicts the issue of nurses’ lack of knowledge, as minors aged 12 and older have access to medical information and assistance, including contraceptives and HIV treatment without parental agreement, according to the Children’s Act no. 38 of 2005 and this is inclusive of the termination of pregnancy (TOP). Because she is a foreign national hailing from Mozambique, the distraught mother also brought up the matter that she and her children do not have identification documents. This makes it impossible for her to obtain a job and live a regular life without the appropriate documentation.
The following recommendations were made:
- Establishing a consolidated network of strategic alliances. These would be inclusive of
(a)Churches (b) Traditional leaders (c) The government (d) Civil society organizations
- Reprograming to ensure that the young people have the following:
- Information- access to information about where to get help and support as well as re-socialization.
- Access to services from the Department of Health, Department of Social Development, Department of Home Affairs, and user-friendly centers to mention a few.
- Training and mentoring on life skills such as assertiveness, communication, and negotiation skills.
- Training and mentoring on livelihood skills that can generate income
- Advocacy campaigns to urge girls to access all forms of contraceptives available as well as the involvement of parents combined with comprehensive sexual education.
- In-depth analysis of the factors that make black communities particularly vulnerable. Is it the parenting or the fragmentation of the family?
- Mapping where resources can be located and identifying resource gaps.
- Providing opportunities for the healing of memories and trauma counseling services for the traumatized and those with post-traumatic stress disorders.