The rights of the pregnant learner
MINISTER of Education Kader Asmal is being forced to find methods to help pregnant learners finish their education.
The Constitution guarantees the right of every child to education. National Department of Education spokesman Bheki Khumalo says the issue of discipline in schools is of major concern to the government, but this does not mean violating a child’s right to education.
Last year more than 17 000 babies were born to mothers aged 16 and younger. Different provinces currently apply their own disciplinary methods when dealing with the problem of teenage pregnancy.
In the North West province, the Department of Education supports the suspension system: when a child becomes pregnant she must stay home for two years. According to the department’s spokesperson Patricia Boikanyo, the province believes that teenage pregnancy is not right, so it is the parent’s duty to ensure that the child doesn’t fall pregnant. “Learners are allowed to write their examinations but this is done by arrangement with the school management.” According to Boikanyo the pregnant learner is not allowed to sit in class with other children because she has contravened the school’s law.
Dikeledi Tawana is one of two girls who have been suspended for three years from Montshiwa Memorial school in Mafikeng. Even though the provincial government has regulated a two-year suspension, some principals, together with their school governing bodies, have decided to extend it to three years. Tawana says she already sees herself as a bad influence because her friends have distanced themselves from her.
According to the Gauteng Department of Education’s access and equity development officer, Vernet Napo, the present situation is that some schools expel pregnant learners and some allow them to continue schooling. The department has developed a circular to ensure that pregnancy is managed in a uniform manner. According to the department, the learner still has the right to remain at school.
The Northern Province believes that it is unconstitutional to expel a child from school. Education spokesperson Rapule wa ga Matsane emphasises that there is no need to establish separate places for these children.
Lulu Xingwane, a Member of Parliament, says taking these children to a separate place will create a stigma that will haunt them for the rest of their lives. Some provinces including the Northern Cape, Western Cape, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal do not have a policy on pregnancy. But they say they encourage schools to respect the constitutional rights of these children.
—The Teacher/Mail & Guardian, July 26, 2000.