Pregnancy among schoolchildren has many social implications, writes
Every day, hundreds of teenage girls gamble with their fertility. At an age when the last thing on their minds should be raising children, many girls are choosing instant sexual gratification and the heartache of teenage pregnancy and eventual motherhood. I am gutted that 4 446 girls fell pregnant in Gauteng alone last year. Ekurhuleni was the worst affected, with 1 289 pregnant girls. Tshwane came in second, with a total of 1 136. The worst affected grades were 10, 11 and matric. Shockingly, a total of 39 girls in primary school fell pregnant. Can you imagine what the numbers of the other provinces are? Scary.
The term “teen pregnancy” doesn’t begin to convey my disappointment and the cascade of public health and social problems that occur when teen girls get pregnant.
What are society and our communities up to when we let teen pregnancy become the leading cause of girls dropping out of school, when teen mothers get on the social grant system, often relegating themselves and their children to a life of poverty?
What about a host of health problems associated with teen pregnancy, including a higher rate of preterm births and low-birthweight babies? Is the escalating teen pregnancy caused by the refusal of some adults to acknowledge their children’s sexuality? Are our children using our embraced ignorance to commit sexual acts while underage?
Are we as parents struggling with the dilemma of how to bring up our children, both girls and boys? Is it because we are surrounded by a culture and entertainment industry that tries to turn seven-year-olds into sex objects?
Are we as adults, becoming conspirators in all this because we lack the courage to say: “It’s wrong, it’s illegal and it may well wreck your life?” Have we removed the taboos which provided a safety net and replaced them with laissez-faire permissiveness and created a world where sex has become a children’s game?
I am raising these questions to explore why we are not winning the battle against teenage pregnancy within the schooling environment in Gauteng.
For decades the debate on teen sexuality has been around contraception vs abstinence. But neither approach devotes sufficient attention to instructing teens on how to achieve success in their current or future relationships or to exploring how postponing sex might contribute to healthy relationships down the road. Today’s teenagers are growing up in a highly charged sexual atmosphere that bears little resemblance to the world their parents grew up in.
Teen sex is inevitable. It cannot be suppressed. The majority of teenagers today are having sex. It must be dealt with rather than ignored. Children tend to hit puberty around 13. By 15, most are having sex. So, what is the solution? Sex education is the solution. We need to arm them early with accurate information.
Many parents and educators think that by informing teenagers about sex and birth control they would be encouraging teen sex. Some parents equate sex education with explaining intercourse. This is a misconception.
Teen sex and teen pregnancy are a reality and must not be denied. This isn’t going to stop or go away when we avoid addressing it. By educating teens about their actions, we can begin to deal with the problem. Teenagers are going to continue to have sex and need someone to answer their questions. Most children are too embarrassed to go to a pharmacy and buy condoms or ask their parents about birth control because they fear being punished.
Sex education should be much more than reproduction and contraception. It should also cover values related to sex, relationships and intimacy. Sex education, in essence, is our responsibility as parents and teachers. It is about helping our children become good men and women. Think of it as a part of the life skills you want to give your children. Every child wants to know the love story of their parents, even if they think of their parents as boring and old-fashioned.
Psychologists have constantly reported that a teen who feels good about themselves and their future, has good reasons to avoid early sexual activity and a potential pregnancy.
They say a teen who feels secure and confident may be less likely to succumb to pressure from her boyfriend in order to keep him.
If she feels good about herself, then she may realise she does not need to hold on to a boyfriend who does not respect her wishes.
On the other hand, teenagers want to know what it’s like to be in love. They want to experience the beautiful feeling of being with the opposite sex. If we don’t provide an age-appropriate behaviour model, then they have to imitate what happens in movies and television shows.
Also, web-based consultation appeals to teenagers because of the anonymity and accessibility of the internet.
In getting real about sex, the Gauteng department of education covers sex education extensively. We should absolutely be teaching young people about the complexities of sex. We shouldn’t be holding back information that can save lives and prevent unwanted pregnancies. Teen pregnancy is shameful and robs our teens of their youth.
To our pupils: respect yourself; be responsible; make your own, independent decisions; don’t rely on friends for advice about sex; what you see on the screen and in movies seldom reflects real life; being a teen parent is very difficult and it robs you of your youth; and lastly, there is a difference between infatuation, love and sex.
Lesufi is Gauteng education MEC