Thousands of school girls fall pregnant over a period of three years – but in a shocking revelation the basic education department has revealed that 193 of these pupils were in Grades 3, 4 and 5.
“This information should shock every South African. Young girls, most under the legal age of 16, are having their futures undermined, likely through being taken advantage of or abused,” DA member of the portfolio committee on basic education, Sonja Boshoff, said.
These numbers were given to the DA in a written reply by the department of basic education, after questions were posed by the DA to the department, pertaining to the total number of learners in primary and secondary schools who fell pregnant in each province between 2014 and 2016.
While the department said that it was in “no position to report on learners who returned to school after pregnancy”, a total of 42 253 pupils from Grades 3 to 12 fell pregnant within the three-year period.
“The DA will urgently submit additional parliamentary questions to find out if these girls are under the age of 16 and if so, whether any charges have been instituted against those responsible, as this would be statutory rape,” Boshoff said.
The DA would also investigate whether the girls have since returned back to school following the birth of their child, what support the school and the basic education department had provided them to catch up on the syllabus, and whether counselling and other emotional support had been provided.
“Keeping children in school should be our major priority if we are to ensure that every person, no matter the circumstances of their birth, are able to live a life they truly value, filled with opportunity. This is something the DA will continue to fight for,” Boshoff said.
In her response to the questions, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said that these issues were of huge concern to the department and “a lot of work” was being done in this area.
“Pregnant learners undermine the department of basic education’s endeavour to ensure that all learners remain in school for the duration of their schooling especially girls so that they can have an opportunity to improve their quality of life,” she said.
Motshekga said schools taught “comprehensive sexuality education”, which was crucial to optimal sexual and reproductive health.
“Its aim is to ensure that 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 and right-based approach to sexuality and relationships, which explicitly addresses issues of gender and power, and provides scientifically accurate, practical information in a non-judgemental way,” said Motshekga.
She also referred to the national policy for the prevention and management of learner pregnancy.
“Of central importance this policy asserts the Constitutional rights of pregnant learners to continue and complete their basic education without stigma or discrimination. Specifically, it confirms that there should be no exclusion of pregnant learners who must be allowed to remain in school during their pregnancies and return as soon after giving birth as is appropriate for both the learner and her child. For its part, the school is required to accommodate the reasonable needs of the learner to ensure that her right to education is not disrupted or ended by pregnancy or birth.”