Recently, I was thinking about a socio-economic topic that would be suitable to close off Women’s Month as this sensitive issue that is very close to my heart, the disturbing statistics for teenage pregnancy in Gauteng came out. These highlight the extent of the problem in Gauteng for the Covid-19 lockdown period alone.
Teenage pregnancy has been one of the most worrying issues in the country for a long time. I saw this first-hand in my home town, Queenstown. After matric in the 1990s, I left to study in Durban and then went to work in Johannesburg for about 20 years. Some of those I regarded as kids in my township were still in primary school in the early 2000s. Almost every year when I came home during the festive season, I would find some of these kids with either one child or pregnant with the second or third one. My question, is where did society go wrong, how did we allow so many of our children to become parents in front of our eyes?
Let us park this question for a while and have a look at these stats which I regard as unacceptable by any standards. The Gauteng Health Department recorded more than 23 000 teenage pregnancies between April 2020 and March 2021. 934 of the girls were between 10 and 14 years, raising more questions. It was further revealed that 2 976 girls between the ages of 10 and 19 decided to terminate their pregnancies.
Before Covid, approximately five percent of females between 14 and 19 in South Africa stated that they were going through different stages of pregnancy in a 12-month period. The prevalence of pregnancy increased with age. While 0.4 percent of young women aged 14 said they were pregnant, the number of 19-year-old women was 32 times higher. Furthermore, pregnancy among women aged 19 increased by 2.8 percentage points between 2018 and 2019.
As a parent of a teenager, I am really concerned and I hope every parent out there is just as worried. What I found disturbing in my hometown is that when I became pregnant with my daughter – I was already 27, independent and self-sufficient – there was an old woman my mother introduced me to while I was heavily pregnan and, the first thing she wanted to know was how old I was and when I told her she was shocked. She said verbatim: “Yhuu, uzale umdala maan!” Loosely translated that I had taken too long to become pregnant and that 27 was too old for me to be having my first child. It dawned on me that the pregnancy problem did not sit only with teenagers – it was a societal problem.
I was appalled by the fact that she thought I was too old to have my first child, but more so by the fact that she thought it was okay for children to have children. How then are we going to save our children from this plight if the older generation that we depended on – those we regard as having the best foundation when it comes to moral standards – can have such views about an issue this sensitive? There are many organisations whose work focuses on ensuring positive development of youth (see my youth month columns for reference). I’d rather we focus on supporting those initiatives and on the pursuit of moral regeneration in our own homes instead of older people who have twisted views about children’s values.
My wish for every child, especially teenagers, is for them to enjoy their childhood, take the time to play with other kids, focus on their studies so that those who have the means can enjoy tertiary life. There’s absolutely nothing more fulfilling than enjoying your hard-earned salary when you start working; without having to worry about baby costs that include nappies, milk, doctors’ visits and all the demands that come with motherhood.
My belief is that it is not natural for a child to have a child,. As adults it is our duty to help our kids to remain children, to enjoy life and gradually grow into the different stages of life. Don’t get me wrong – I know that raising kids is no child’s play, but I still plead with every parent to assist in complementing the efforts of the teachers, youth organisations and government by doing our part and raising our kids with the right kind of values and support, because, unfortunately, all of this starts at home.
Miranda Lusiba is the founding director of Strangé Consulting – a boutique PR agency specialising in communications, freelance writing, media relations, reputation management and media training.