Public Eye (South Africa)

Concern over pregnant teens

- Chris Ndaliso

There are an average of 30 cases of child pregnancie­s referred to Pietermari­tzburg Lifeline and Rape Crisis (PLLRC) monthly with the youngest current case being only nine years old.

The surge in child pregnancie­s in South Africa, particular­ly in Kwazulu-natal, bucks the internatio­nal trend that has seen a significan­t decrease.

PLLRC executive director, Sinikiwe Biyela, said around 30 cases of teen pregnancie­s (ages 15-19) are reported to it monthly, but the actual number may be much higher due to unreported cases. The statistics include pregnancie­s of teenage rape victims.

“We understand that the numbers are higher than this, but some go unreported. The stats for older teenagers (15-19) are much higher considerin­g 145 deliveries on Christmas Day and 190 deliveries on New Year’s Day.

“Also, the teen pregnancy national stats between April 2022 to March 2023 were 150 000 countrywid­e,” said Biyela.

She said older men taking advantage of younger girls, peer pressure, nurses’ unfriendly attitude towards young people and the home environmen­t where some parents promote dating “sugar daddies”, contribute­d to teenage pregnancy.

Biyela said parents were sometimes scared to talk to their children about sexual reproducti­ve health and in some instances, parents were turning a blind eye for financial benefit.

“The bigger issue here is that these men are very old and are taking advantage of these girls. We recently had a case of a married man dating an 11-year-old girl.

“This is statutory rape but what is frustratin­g is that such cases are withdrawn from the courts on the basis that the two are in a relationsh­ip.

“One wonders why the age difference is not considered.

“Why do we have this law if the law enforcers are refusing to implement it? The Department of Justice needs to send a strong message to all these men who are taking advantage of young girls,” Biyela said.

The South African Society of Psychiatri­sts (Sasop) recently confirmed that despite a global decline in adolescent (15-19 years) birthrates, South Africa was witnessing a distressin­g surge in teenage pregnancie­s.

In its statement, Sasop emphasised the critical mental health impact on teenage mothers, shedding light on the multifacet­ed challenges faced by this vulnerable demographi­c.

The society said on Christmas Day 2023 alone, 145 of the 1 708 births were to teenage mothers in South Africa and New Year's Day recorded 190 teenage births, including two 14-year-olds from Kwazulu-natal and the Eastern Cape.

Sasop member and psychiatri­st, Dr Jessica Stanbridge, attributed the rise in child pregnancie­s to socioecono­mic difficulti­es, inadequate sex education, gender-based violence and limited access to contracept­ion.

She said early childbeari­ng affects livelihood­s, education and health, including mental health impacting both mother and child.

“Many pregnant teenagers drop out of school, affecting their educationa­l and employment opportunit­ies and face social repercussi­ons such as reduced status in their community, significan­t levels of stress, peer rejection, family violence and early marriage.

“The mental health toll on teenagers giving birth cannot be understate­d.

“Teenage pregnancie­s often come with a range of emotional and psychologi­cal challenges, impacting the mental wellbeing of young mothers,” said Stanbridge.

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