Teenage pregnancy is evidence that South Africa continues to fail girls and young women

934 girls aged 10-14 years old in South Africa gave birth between April 2020 and March 2021 in Gauteng.

Pause. Let that sink in.

And if you are shocked, absorb the shock and reflect on how this country continues to fail its children.

As the Soul City Institute for Social Justice, we are not shocked because this is not a new problem, the numbers may have escalated because of the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, but this is not a problem simply by our current situation. In fact, the pandemic has put a spotlight on issues that we have collectively ignored or chosen to. This is also not a Gauteng problem, but a South African problem. In a country where sexual violence against women is a pandemic on its own, it is only logical that the most vulnerable group – young girls – would be impacted in this manner.

The reports in the media that the Gauteng MEC of Education Panyaza Lesufi will contact the MECs of Health and Safety and Security are welcome. But we demand that during these engagements an extensive analysis of the problem must be undertaken by answering the following:

  1. Who is impregnating these girls? Is it their peers or adult men? Several studies show us it is likely older adult men, which means this is statutory rape. In 2018, Soul City conducted a study on sexual violence in school, while the finding showed learner-to-learner intimate partner violence, a significant amount of the violence also occurred between female learners reported and their teachers.
  2. What are the barriers to opening of statutory rape cases that minor face? Additionally, does society – us – make room for these girls to talk about their experiences and traumas?
  3. What accountability measures are in place for officials who fail in this regard?

The health and social challenges early pregnancy bring for girls and young women are well documented.  The girls who likely must drop out of school are condemned to a life of poverty. As we look for solutions that are not driven by just government, but by communities as well, it is important to name what is at the root cause of this problem.

And that is patriarchy.

Men are the perpetrators of these act of sexual violence towards young girls, their sense of entitlement to women’s bodies extends to even girls.  It is disconcerting that in a country where the age of sexual consent is 16 years, there are no records of statutory rape cases despite the departments of health, police and social development being aware of the problem.

The issue is complex and requires different sectors in society to come on board to think and act on how in addition to holding the men who are perpetrators accountable do we also create an environment where young girls understand their sexual health and rights and how to exercise those rights when they are violated. To challenge the norms that reinforce the toxic masculinities that enable the violence there must be a long-term investment by supporting initiatives such as:

  • Boys mentoring programmes that are aimed at deconstructing the socialisation of boys that associates masculinity with violence against women and girls.
  • Comprehensive Sexuality education, a programme that builds an understanding of concepts, content, values and attitudes around sexuality, sexual behaviour as well as leading safe and healthy lifestyle.
  • The Soul Buddyz clubs in schools a programme that creates an environment for ongoing learning with peer support and help mobilise children and build agency to tackle issues affecting them in their schools and communities.

The responsibility is not just for government, civil society organisations but on communities as well. Communities must interrogate what are some of the practices that have been normalised that enable violation of young girls to continue with impunity, and how have religious, cultural institutions that are supposed to ensure a cohesive society also failed young girls.

These numbers demand that we all must interrogate how we reinforce the status quo and not just be shocked and move on as we tend to do.

For media interviews, contact:
Hlanga Mqushulu, Campaigns Manager Soul City Institute for Social Justice.
email: hlanga@soulcity.org.za,  011 771 7908

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