The chief executive of the Soul City Institute for Social Justice says talking about teenage pregnancy needs to move from pointing out problems to finding solutions, and that scrutinising the wording used when talking about the issue is a necessity.
The institute is hosting a webinar today (Wednesday) following the recent cabinet approval of the national policy on prevention of pupil pregnancies in schools. The policy aims to provide an enabling environment to support and prevent discrimination against pregnant schoolgirls.
Prior to a 2012 court ruling against the department of basic education, pregnant schoolgirls would be asked to take a leave of absence from school and were banned from returning for two years after having given birth.
According to the new policy, comprehensive pregnancy prevention information, counselling, guidelines and care should be provided to pregnant learners.
“The webinar will focus on what can be done to prevent teenage pregnancy. We already know what the problems are and now we need to focus on finding solutions for these problems,” said Phinah Kodisang, the Soul City chief executive.
“We are also hoping that the discussion will open up the conversation about some of the loopholes that exist in the legal framework when it comes to the age of consent for sex and the age at which children can access things like termination of pregnancy,” she added.
In August, the Gauteng department of basic education revealed in a legislature question-and-answer session that 23 000 learners between the ages of 10 and 19 were pregnant between April 2020 and March 2021.
Kodisang told the Mail & Guardian that this was one of several incidents that required more focus on the language used when talking about teenage pregnancy.
“The language needs to change because a 10-year-old cannot be pregnant and be described as a teen pregnancy. Research shows that the first sexual encounter for children is through rape or coersion, so we need to describe such incidents as statutory rape instead of teenage pregnancy,” she said.
Kodisang acknowledged that although some teenagers were more likely to consent to unprotected sex than others, society had to refrain from taking a blanket approach to reports of young people who were reported to be pregnant, especially in South Africa, where young girls, adolescents and women were more likely to be raped than arguably in other parts of the world.
She also called on parents, healthcare professionals, law enforcement agencies as well as the government to protect the rights of young people and to create an environment that would provide safe spaces for all young people, including those who are living with disabilities and those within the LGBTQIA+ community.
These included amplifying the voices of young people, and ensuring that healthcare facilities had youth zones that were resourced with adequate and easily accessible contraceptives.
The webinar starts at 1pm.