Teenage Pregnancy amongst school learners, and in SA generally
The Department of Basic Education briefed the Committee on teenage pregnancy in South Africa, specifically focusing on school-going learners. The Human Sciences Research Council’s teenage pregnancy report was released on 28 August 2009, based on a study it had conducted on behalf of the Department of Education. The report showed that there was a lack of vital statistics in South Africa but that overall fertility had been declining for the past fifty years. Teenage fertility was declining at a slow pace, due to spikes in fertility related to HIV/AIDS having overtaken teenage pregnancy as a priority. The Department stated that there was a perception in the country that there was an upsurge in teenage pregnancy, because the pregnancies were seen more often in schools, in communities and amongst those collecting the Child Support Grant. Most teen pregnancies happened between the ages of seventeen and nineteen. The rise in learner pregnancy was most likely the result of improved reporting rather than a real increase. Learner pregnancy rates were higher in schools located in poor areas and in schools that were poorly resourced. There was no empirical evidence of a link between teen fertility and the Child Support Grant. Termination of pregnancy by teens had increased over time and there was in fact a low uptake of the Child Support Grant among teens. Data showed that an increase in education resulted in a decrease in fertility and that pregnancy was no longer causing students to drop out of school, although dropping out was a significant risk factor for early pregnancy and HIV. In South Africa, only about a third of teen mothers returned to school.
The Department noted that the primary focus must be on prevention of pregnancies, but second chances should be made available to prevent the loss of human potential. The Department recommended the universal implementation of sex education, with focus both on abstinence and safe sex, as well as biological and social risk factors. The Department also promoted community-based interventions, the rolling out of adolescent friendly services, promoting open communication between parents and children and increasing the coverage in the media with a distinct focus on pregnancy. The Department noted that this report would be presented to Cabinet, a series of provincial discussions would take place and it would bring together key stakeholders. A comprehensive strategy would be developed for the management and prevention of learner pregnancy and it would explore the policy options relating to teen pregnancy in education. The strategy would include developing tools to identify high risk schools, developing early warning systems for schools to identify students likely to drop out, developing monitoring and evaluation tools, improving life skills programmes, and strengthening and supporting peer education.
The Committee was concerned about what the policy was towards learners who were pregnant and still in school. They also wanted clarity on the policy that spoke to learners returning to school in less than two years after having a child. Members noted that the report needed to contain more information and statistics on the fathers. Concerns were expressed over the fact that there was an increased risk of teen pregnancy when girls were involved in a relationship with older males. The Committee asked how teen mothers attending school affected other learners in the school, but this was not one of the issues addressed. Members wanted to know why the Department said there was the perception that there was an upsurge in teen pregnancies when communities were complaining that there were too many teen pregnancies, specifically with school learners. The Committee had an issue with the Department saying that teens did not get pregnant for the Child Service Grants. They asked the Department what could be done to prevent learners from dropping out of school. There was still an issue that teen mothers were often exposed to stigma, and this was one of the reasons they did not return to schools, and Members asked if the pregnant teens were given any advice, as they had to take responsibility for their child. Another Member questioned whether there really was no link between teen pregnancy and the child grants, noting that learners may not reveal the truth, and that experience on the ground had shown that the grants were being accessed, but were not used for the welfare of the child. The Committees thought that churches’ programmes, availability of sports and social facilities, and rural development could play a role in preventing teen pregnancies. They also encouraged open communication between girls and boys as well as the parents. Members noted that there was not any adequate data regarding the termination of pregnancy, which was needed to help the Committee to understand who was accessing the service and why, and also recommended that psychologists and social workers, many of whom were retired but would be available, be introduced in the schools to address the life-skills issue. The Committee stressed that it was important to find preventative measures, including more involvement with extra-curricular activities, and urged the Department to include all the relevant Portfolio Committees in programmes that they initiated. Members also noted that most of the difficulties preceded pregnancy, as there were cultural and social issues to contend with. The Committee supported initiatives that focused on values and character building.
Pregnancies amongst teenagers, with a specific focus on school-going learners: Department of Basic Education (DBE or the Department) briefing
Co Chairperson Ms Chohan stated that this was a very important meeting, following the release of the report on teen pregnancy in the country. She had asked Ms N Gina (ANC) to act as co-Chair, in the light of her experience in educational issues. She also welcomed Members from the Portfolio Committee on Women, Youth, Children and Persons with Disabilities.
Ms Gugu Ndebele, Deputy Director-General: Social and School Enrichment, Department of Basic Education, thanked Members for interacting with the Department of Basic Education (DBE) so soon after the report was released, which would allow this Committee to receive a full understanding of what was covered, rather than hearing other versions “second-hand”.
Ms Saadhna Panday, Senior Researcher, DBE, tabled the Report, and briefed Members on the State of Teenage Pregnancy in South Africa (SA). She stated that high teen fertility was a subject of concern in research and policy circles. The DBE adopted a rights-based approach to the matter and introduced guidelines to prevent and manage teen fertility.
The purpose of the study was to critically analyse and review the data on teenage pregnancy to focus on learner pregnancy. The Department engaged in a desktop review of literature and looked at trends in fertility. A secondary analysis was conducted using the EMIS data for 2004-2008 and the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) 2003 Status of Youth Survey. The study showed that there was a lack of vital statistics in SA, but that overall fertility had been declining for the past fifty years. Teenage fertility was declining at a slower pace due to spikes in fertility related to national epochs such as HIV/AIDS having overtaken teenage pregnancy as a priority. Fertility declined by 10% between 1996 and 2001, and declined by a further 10% by 2007.
The Department stated that there was a perception in the country that there was an upsurge in teenage pregnancy. This was because it was now seen more often at schools, in communities and when collecting the Child Support Grant (CSG). There was confluence between issues of morality, strategies to reduce teen pregnancy, enforcement of responsibilities of young mothers and assistance given by society to children of teen mothers. Most teen pregnancies happened between the ages of seventeen and nineteen. Studies showed that the rates of pregnancy were higher in some race groups. There were more teen pregnancies in African and Coloured groups compared to Indian and White groups.
The Department warned that it was missing data from some provinces. The rise in learner pregnancy was most likely the result of improved reporting rather than a real increase. Learner pregnancy rates were higher in schools located in poor areas and in schools that were poorly resourced. There was no empirical evidence of a link between teen fertility and CSG. Termination of pregnancy by teens had increased over time and there was a low uptake of CSG among teens. Data showed that an increase in education resulted in a decrease in pregnancies, and that pregnancy resulted from school encounters, rather than caused students to drop out of school. Dropping out of school at an early stage was, however, a significant risk factor leading to higher statistics in both early pregnancy and HIV. In SA, only about a third of teen mothers returned to school.
Termination of pregnancy was legalised in 1996. Girls applied “relative morality” to protect their education and to avoid social and financial hardships. There was still a high use of illegal termination services. The decline in fertility was related to an increase in access to family planning services resulting in the use of contraception, the increase in access to education and a shift in attitudes towards pregnancy. There were high levels of knowledge of contraception, but incorrect and inconsistent use still persisted. Most young women became pregnant because they were not using contraception.
An ecological approach was taken to the study and it was shown that teen fertility resulted from a complex set of factors related to the social conditions under which teens grew up. The stigma of teen pregnancy limited open communication with parents and access to healthcare. Imbalanced gender relations often involved coerced or forced sex. Poverty resulted in trade-offs between health and economic security such as the reciprocity of sex in exchange for material goods. It also resulted in limiting access to information and incentives to protect against pregnancy. Research showed that young fathers had the same profile as young mothers such as a strong emotional response to fatherhood and a deep sense of responsibility.
SA was mainly focused on sexual risk factors, yet relational and structural factors were key determinants. The primary focus had to be on prevention of pregnancies. However, second chances were needed to prevent the loss of human potential. The Department recommended the universal implementation of sex education. This sex education programme focused on both abstinence and safe sex and it addressed biological and social risk factors. The Department also wanted to target high-risk groups, retain learners in schools and involve them in community work. Insofar as the “second-chance” policy was concerned, the Department wanted to consistently implement flexible school policies to address barriers to learning, and that there be strong referral systems to social services. The Department also promoted community-based interventions, the rolling out of adolescent friendly services, promoting open communication between parents and children and increasing the coverage in the media with a distinct focus on pregnancy. Teen fertility had been declining in SA but the rates were still unacceptably high. The best protection that the education system could offer was to keep learners in school.
The Department discussed the way forward. It wanted to discuss the issue holistically, using gender-sensitive and rights-based approaches, and to develop strategies that were responsive. Therefore, reductive and preventative strategies had to involve other role players and stakeholders. A seminar was held on 28 August 2009, where the report on teenage pregnancy in SA was presented, and responses from learners were heard. Discussions focused on poverty, peer pressure, the lack of information, parenting skills, and the importance of education. The seminar also looked at second chances for teen mothers and empowering educators in sexuality education.
The report would be presented to Cabinet, a series of provincial discussions would take place and this would bring together key stakeholders. A comprehensive strategy would be developed for the management and prevention of learner pregnancy. This strategy would explore the policy options relating to teen pregnancy in education, include developing tools to identify high risk schools, develop early warning systems for schools to identify students likely to drop out, develop monitoring and evaluation tools, improve life skills programmes, and strengthen and support peer education.
Co-Chairperson Chohan asked the Department to clarify what its policy was towards learners who were pregnant and still in school. She stated that there was a policy that spoke to learners returning to school in less than two years after having a child. She asked for clarity on this. She asked if the current rate of pregnancy referred to both teens in the schooling system and those out of school, and whether there were separate figures for pregnant teens that were in the schooling system, and those who were not in the schooling system when they fell pregnant, as this information would be important. She wanted an explanation on what “service learning” was.
Dr Panday stated that teen fertility was measured using national data, so it represented both sets of teenagers, both within and outside the schooling system. This was why the Department tried to analyse the EMIS data that asked the question about whether schools supported learner pregnancies. There was some data missing in respect of the provinces, and therefore the national data was more reliable.
Dr Panday stated that the Department’s policy was based on non-discrimination against pregnant learners in the education system, and tried to ensure that pregnant learners were allowed to return to school. The policy was also about balancing these issues. A guideline was needed for schools to show them how to deal with learner pregnancies. The measures would encourage abstinence, and would focus on sexuality and life-skills education. Schools needed to engage with parents on a one-on-one basis.
Dr Panday explained that the two year period for teen mothers to return to school was proposed as there was the need for teen mothers to take care of their child after giving birth, which must, however, be weighed up against their need for education. It was really a negotiation between the principles of the school, the learner and the parents. The two-year plan was not a policy; it was simply a measure that was suggested.
Ms Ndebele stated that many parents took their children out of schools. The Department had to find a way to balance the values of the schools and the values of families.
Dr Panday stated that service learning was part of the academic programme where learners were asked to go out and engage in community projects. They would come back to the classrooms to talk about their experiences and how they contributed to their understanding. Learners who engaged in service learning had lower levels of teen fertility. Having a sense of purpose and direction could serve as protection against teen pregnancy.
Mr N Kganyago (UDM) stated that the pie chart in the presentation depicting the contribution to teen pregnancy by age did not say anything about the fathers. If a fifteen-year-old girl was impregnated by an older man, then this too was a problem. The report needed to contain more information and statistics on the fathers.
Dr Panday addressed this issue of “age-mixing”. When young women were involved with male partners who were five years older than themselves, there was an increased risk of contracting HIV. When young women were involved with men three years their senior, there was an increased risk of teen pregnancy, and both were at more or less equivalent levels of development. However, if a twelve-year-old girl was involved with a seventeen-year-old boy, there was a problem, as the boy would be at the brink of sexuality, while the girl would be further behind in this respect. There was a lot of controversy around this issue because of the differences in their development.
Ms J Kloppers-Lourens (DA) asked how teen mothers attending school affected other learners in the school. These learners were sexually active, and she wondered if the Department was concerned about the example that teen mothers would set for other learners.
Ms Panday stated that the Department did not look at this issue specifically. This was not one of the aims of the study. The study showed that when young mothers returned to school, the education protected them against falling pregnant a second time soon after the first pregnancy. In fact, it delayed “second birth”.
Mr D Smiles (DA) asked why the Department had said that there was a misperception that there was an upsurge in teen pregnancies, when communities on the ground were complaining that there were too many teen pregnancies, specifically with school learners. He noted that the Department stated that teen pregnancies were not related to the CSG. He wished to question this conclusion. He asked the Department what could be done to prevent learners from dropping out of school. He stated that encouraging mothers to go back to school also touched on moral issues. Some mothers were not sent back to the same schools that they attended prior to the pregnancies. Other support systems had to come in to assist children whose mothers were sent away to other schools.
Dr Panday stated that she was referring to the perception of the upsurge in teen pregnancies versus the national data, which in fact showed very clearly that there was an overall decline in SA. This was a sensitive issue that would be controversial for a very long time, because it included issues of unprotected sex and the sexuality of young people. It was an issue that all of society needed to be involved in. Speaking then to the CSG perceptions, she noted that a large percentage of teen mothers were in the 15-19 year old category, but that only 2% of these mothers accessed the CSG.
Dr Panday said that the two significant risk factors for dropping out of school were poor school performance and poverty. She suggested that conditional cash payments could be one way to curb drop outs in the schooling system. This system was used in countries like Brazil and Bangladesh to get young teens through school. The method had proven to be successful as an intervention to retain learners in schools.
Dr Panday spoke to the matter of sending young mothers away to other schools. If this was done because of the stigma, then there should be a strategy to get young women back in to the schooling system. She agreed that young mothers were often exposed to stigma and this was one of the reasons they did not return to schools.
Ms D Robinson (DA) asked if the pregnant teens were given any advice, as they had to take responsibility for their child. Teen mothers had to be told about matters such as nutrition and getting sufficient sleep. This would be good preparation for young fathers as well.
Dr Panday stated that one of the suggestions that the Department made was to include some type of education regarding parenting into learners’ life-skills education. It would look at what it meant to be a parent and what the responsibilities were relating to parenthood. The proposal did not focus on post-pregnancy, but on pre-pregnancy issues.
Ms Ndebele added that the study reinforced the need for a life-skills programme that focused on values. The strengthening of life-skills programmes was not just about sexuality, it was about looking at positive values so learners would be able make positive choices and influence their peers in a positive manner.
Co-Chairperson Chohan stated that life-skills programmes at schools were not prioritised. There were certain social prevalence issues that were prioritised, such as HIV, but most learners did not know basic facts about health. Schools and the government needed to look at programmes that focused on character building, and looked at basic lessons of respect, loyalty, and honesty, being values that were shared across different religions and communities. If this was not done soon, the country was going to be saddled with major social problems. There were simple issues that were overlooked and it was therefore important that fundamental values were included in school curriculums.
A Member stated that the Committee should look more closely at the statement that there was no link between teen pregnancy and the CSG. Learners may not reveal the truth. People living in the same community with the teen mothers reported that the CSG was not always used for the correct purposes. Some children were looked after by their grandmothers although their mothers collected, and often spent the CSG on themselves. There was indeed apparently a great link between the CSG and teen pregnancy. She also questioned the assumption that poverty was one of the main reasons for teen pregnancies. There were also children from well-off families who fell pregnant. She thought that churches’ programmes, availability of sports facilities and rural development could play a role in preventing teen pregnancies.
Ms Ndebele stated that although poverty might not be the main reason for teen pregnancy, it was certainly one of the risk factors. Studies showed that young children who did not have any aspirations tended to engage in risky behaviour.
Dr Panday added that poverty was a very complex issue. Poverty had an impact at the individual level, the interpersonal level, and institutional and structural level. Poverty could limit access to contraception because there were limited access to healthcare services in particular areas. An individual’s poverty could also limit her ability to get information, and her social situation might make her lack incentive to protect herself. She agreed with the need for churches, sports, and rural development to play a role in decreasing teen pregnancy. This problem could not be solved by single sectors of society.
Dr Panday did not think that the matter of the link between the CSG and teen pregnancy could be solved in this meeting. The data that was taken from the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) was linked to national trends in teenage fertility. The data indicated clearly that there was not a definite link, but this was an issue beyond data. She thought that society had to come together to decide on what key messages had to be filtered down to teens. The reported reasons for pregnancy in the report were taken from teens’ perspective. Only 2% of teen mothers became pregnant so they could receive the CSG. Another type of debate was needed to decide how the matter would be taken forward. She reiterated that the data, however, showed that there was no link between the two.
Ms A Mashishi (ANC) noted that the Department’s data was not broken down according to provinces and therefore the Committee could not see what was happening across the provinces. She thought that there should be open communication between both girls and boys. She asked if the two-year policy that stated that teen mothers should go back to school was at the discussion phase or if had already been implemented.
Dr Panday agreed that there should be open communication between girls and their parents as well as with boys, as sexuality was a shared activity. Young boys had to be educated as well as there was a shared responsibility in having safe sex.
Ms C Dudley (ACDP) stated that there was a model or programme that Kwazulu-Natal used that enabled parents to speak to the youth about all the important issues concerning sexuality and pregnancy. She asked how the Department was able to get to the parents. She wondered if the Department was involved in broadening access to other educational facilities. There was more that could be done to create an initiative that girls could access, which would allow them to complete their education. There were complaints about the lack of data regarding the termination of pregnancy. This was important information that would help the Committee to understand who was accessing the service and why. She noted that there was legislation responsible for the decrease in teen pregnancy. She asked if the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act (CTOP) contributed to the decrease or if there was more legislation involved in it.
Ms Ndebele stated that the Department was looking at a multitude of second-chance opportunities for out of school youth. The Department for Higher Education and Training (DHET) was looking at options for children that dropped out of school. This would also be linked to the review of the college system. The DHET was in the process of looking for an alternative matric certificate programme for those that dropped out in their matric year.
Dr Panday stated that the model from KZN was called CHAMP. It recruited parents and children via the schooling system to participate in the programme. It was often difficult to recruit parents, but once they were recruited the programme experienced phenomenal success.
Dr Panday said that there was not adequate data collection under the CTOP and there was still persistent use of illegal services. There was no control over where and how terminations were being carried out, which was why the data was unreliable. There was an entire package of family planning services that helped decrease the teen pregnancy rate. The CTOP Act could have made a contribution, but it was more likely the increased access to contraception that was more successful.
Mr J Skosana (ANC) stated that a policy had to be developed that spoke to the manner in which schools had to deal with pregnant learners. This was a serious problem.
Ms H Malgas (ANC) agreed that proper guidelines needed to be in place that would state how long a pregnant learner was able to attend schools. She added that people were not sure where to locate the Moral Regeneration Movement, a government programme that was brought in to education. Life-skills programmes were important but were not given enough attention in schools. She stated that there was another problem that it was sometimes the teachers in schools that were impregnating their students, and perhaps also passing on HIV. She wondered what was being done to promote proper morals on the part of teachers.
Ms Ndebele stated that there was a need for inter-departmental interaction. If pregnant learners were allowed to attend schools, then systems would be needed in case learners needed to access healthcare services. It was important that all entities should come together in service of schools, and to balance the rights of learners in education.
Ms Ndebele said that the Department was working with the Moral Regeneration Movement. The Department was in the process of introducing a Bill of Responsibilities in schools. Issues such as values and respect would be included in the programmes under this Bill. There was also a teacher’s guide that could be used. The Bill was developed by the Department and religious bodies.
Mr N Kganyago (ANC) stated that he had overheard some teen mothers talking boastfully about getting money from the CSG. There were serious problems here. He too thought that more than 2% of teen mothers fell pregnant for the grant. He also addressed the life-skills matter and recommended that psychologists and social workers be introduced into the schools.
Ms A Mda (COPE) stated that implementation of the recommendations made in the presentation would come with challenges. However, following up on Mr Kganyago’s suggestion, she said that there were many retired social workers and nurses in the community that could be utilised in schools. It was important that each school had a nurse and a school psychologist.
Ms Dudley agreed that the social worker concept was of great importance. Nurses and social workers could help to identify problems that those outside of schools could not.
Mr Smiles noted that there was a shortage of strategies on how to retain learners in schools. The Committee had to assist Departments’ to find preventative measures. He agreed with learners being more involved with extra-curricular activities so they did not have too much free time to engage in risky behaviour.
The Chairperson for the Portfolio Committee on Women, Youth, Children and Persons with Disabilities, Ms B Thompson (ANC), noted the need to move forward. She urged the Department to include all the relevant Portfolio Committees in programmes that they initiated. She added that parents and the government should try to move children away from an attitude of greed, and dissatisfaction with what was presently offered. She warned that Committees would soon be dealing with the non-implementation of the Children’s Act, which also posed problems. She urged that a better platform was needed to train children to be better teenagers.
Ms Ndebele stated that the most of the issues were symptoms of bigger problems. Learners had to be retained in schools. The Department of Health (DoH), the Department of Social Development (DSD) and the DBE had to demonstrate to the Committee how their services and programmes would converge in schools. She added that the CSG could be used in a positive way, by saying that if a teen did not become pregnant, the money could be put towards bursaries.
Co-Chairperson Chohan noted that the Committee and the Department faced many challenges that would require multiple responses. She hoped that the discussions helped the Department. Emphasis had to be placed on learners completing their education, whether they were pregnant or not. Educating the mother was a step to educating the nation. She was heartened to hear that teen pregnancy was not such a problem as had been thought, but stressed that the cultural and social issues remained and must be addressed. The Committee supported initiatives that focused on values and character building.
The meeting was adjourned.