Teen mothers often forced into sex

This is according to a wide-ranging survey on teen parenting involving almost 800 teenagers between the ages of 16 and 20 from six provinces, which was conducted by the Planned Parenthood Association of SA (PPASA) and funded by the Gates Foundation.

Teenage pregnancy is a serious problem in South Africa, with 40% of all the country’s pregnancies involving girls under the age of 19. Some 35% of all teenage girls have had a child by the age of 19.

“While it is important to continue our work reducing the number of teenage pregnancies, those teens who end up pregnant need financial and community support so that they can be good parents and self-reliant citizens,” said the PPASA’s Tukisang Senne.

The survey, conducted among African teenagers in places where the PPASA has services, found that almost two thirds of males interviewed (60.7%) had impregnated a girl, while the majority of girls (56.3%) were either pregnant or had already had a child. The average age of the parents was 18.2 years.

Over a third of the young men had more than three sexual partners at the same time. Among those who had already fathered a child it was the norm (65.6%) to have at least two sexual partners, while 38.8% reported having four or more partners.

“I have three girlfriends and that is good. In case one dumps me, I will b able to console myself with the other two,” explained one of the young men.

The pattern was the opposite for young women, with 66.2% of teenage mothers having one partner and 49.3% of teen girls with no children sticking to one partner.

The majority of teen mothers (30.6%) said they had fallen pregnant because their contraceptive method had failed. However, a worrying 19.5% had not been using any contraception at all.

Almost one in four teen mothers (19.8%) said that they had fallen pregnant because of “peer pressure”, mainly from friends who had already had babies. Some 5.6% had become pregnant after being raped.

There was very little evidence to support the urban legend that girls are deliberating falling pregnant to get access to child support grants. Only 9.2% of girls (33 in total) said that they had planned their pregnancy, mostly because their partner wanted a child or they wanted their partner to commit himself to their relationship. A minority, four girls in total, said that they wanted access to the child support grant.

The majority of teen fathers said they offered the child some kind of support and more than half (55.9%) the respondents were still involved with the mother of their child.

However, the mothers said teen pregnancy was very stressful and they felt they shouldered most of the burden of childcare. Some expressed bitterness at having to leave school while their male partners continued with their education.

“If guys give support, they will only concentrate on the baby and their future plans and forget about the mother,” said one girl.

“I felt alone when my partner refused paternity and left me pregnant alone,” reported another girl.

In one of the most positive findings of the research, condoms were identified as the contraceptive of choice of most teenagers. However, many girls said that they did not use other contraception because they feared “side effects” such as weight gain or infertility.

However, aside from pregnancy, HIV/AIDS was a key concern for teenagers. Most respondents (60.5%) knew someone with HIV or AIDS, and the majority (87.9%) said this had made them change their sexual behaviour by deciding to remain faithful to one partner, using condoms or abstaining from sex.

The researchers have recommended that PPASA develops programmes to assist teen parents with parenting skills as well as help to set up support groups and offer skills training, particularly for parents who have had to stop their studies.

E-mail Kerry Cullinan

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