Teen moms live their life-skills lessons
EVERY morning before Nhlanhla Masehla prepares for school, she has to bath and feed her baby and change his nappy. Then she packs his bag with formula and extra clothes before dropping him off at a crèche in Refilwe township east of Pretoria. The Grade 11 pupil at Chipa-Tabane Secondary School in Cullinan features alongside two other teens, Fanele Mthembu and Thato Mangole, in the MTV documentary 16 and Pregnant, which premiered this week. The documentary, which seeks to highlight the societal, economic and health challenges faced by teenage girls in South Africa, will also be aired on SABC next month. It is a spin-off of the popular US series of the same name. More than 40 000 pupils in South Africa fell pregnant between 2014 and 2016, according to the Department of Basic Education. Of these, 1 449 were in primary school, 190 of them in Grades 3, 4 or 5. In an interview with the Sunday Times at her home in Pretoria this week, Nhlanhla said she had been sexually active since the age of 12. At the time she fell pregnant, her boyfriend was in his 30s and working at a restaurant. He would buy her and her friends alcohol and she thought he loved her. “I knew I wasn’t the only girl in his life, but I always thought he was using a condom with the other girls. I was his main chick and there was no point in us using protection.” Last year doctors confirmed she was pregnant, and that she was HIV positive.
With the support of Mothers2Mothers — an NGO that helps mothers living with HIV — Nhlanhla is now on treatment and is careful not to transmit the disease to her six-month-old baby.
“There was a point where I thought of giving my partner food poison before killing myself and my unborn child,” she said.
“I loved and trusted him. I used to hate him for what he did, but learnt to forgive. I can’t entirely blame him. My mother told me about the dangers of alcohol, boys and sex but I thought I was streetwise and smart, and that all these things only happened to other girls.”
Nhlanhla said that by sharing her story, she hoped to create awareness among teenagers. At her school, she advises four other pregnant teens on how to cope with the school workload and negative criticism from the community.
After matric, she wants to study to become a vet and provide a better future for her son.
“Sometimes this means I have to attend afternoon classes with him when my grandmother or brother are too busy to look after him for me.
“On those days I fetch him from crèche and go back with him to class. I can’t afford to miss any lessons. When I am home I must give him my full attention. Every teacher and pupil at the school knows I have a child and I am also open about my status,” she said.
Her mother, Sibongile Masanabo, said she was very disappointed when she discovered her daughter was pregnant, but had to accept her and the baby.
“We Ndebeles don’t believe in abortion. Now I am happy that I have a grandson.”
MTV Stay Alive Foundation executive director Georgia Arnold said the documentary highlighted the sacrifices pregnant teenagers had to make and the hurdles they had to overcome.
“We hope to encourage them to take control of their lives and bodies by helping them to make more informed choices about sex, sexual health and contraception,” she said.
Eastern Cape social worker Pamela Rubushe said she had come across several cases of girls younger than 13 falling pregnant.
“Most of them are sexually abused by people they know. Last year alone I was dealing with four cases and the youngest was 11. She gave the child up for adoption,” said Rubushe.
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said teen pregnancy statistics were “of huge concern”.
The Council of Education Ministers had approved a national policy for the prevention and management of pupil pregnancy, Motshekga said.
“The aim is to ensure young people gain the knowledge and skills to make conscious, healthy and respectful choices about relationships and sexuality. It provides an age-appropriate, culturally relevant approach to sexuality and relationships.”
Basic education spokesman said Elijah Mhlanga: “The department has various interventions in place aimed at educating learners about the implications of unprotected sexual activity.”
STREET-WISE: Nhlanhla Masehla ignored her mother’s advice
BABY FACES: From left, Thato Mangole, Fanele Mthembu and Nhlanhla Masehla feature in the documentary ‘16 and Pregnant’