Preg­nancy among schoolchil­dren has many so­cial im­pli­ca­tions, writes

CityPress - - Voices -

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

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