Every year, thousands of South African girls fall pregnant. Teen mums from around the country say that the road to parenthood is lonely and the battle to stay in school is hard won.
For Northern Cape mom Priscilla Brand, finding out she was pregnant as a teen was “the most devastating time of my life”.
“The night I told my parents, is the night they chased me from their home and told me to go stay with
the father of my child,” said Brand who bounced from house to house during her pregnancy. “I felt I was a mistake. I was not proud of myself.
“After the pregnancy I returned to my parents home for ten days but had to leave again.”
She did not return to school. Instead, she moved to Cape Town to find work to support her child.
“It was a very unpleasant time.”
Girls go it alone?[quote float= right]I did consider an abortion, but my boyfriend and I are scared and are still thinking of ways to tell his mother”
About 10 percent of all babies born in Northern Cape health facilities are born to mothers like Brand under the age of 18 years, according to the latest District Health Barometer. Brand’s home district of John Taolo Gaetsewe ranks third in the country for underage deliveries with mums under 18 years old accounting for more than 12 percent of all births in faciliites.
Only the Eastern Cape rivals Northern Cape in the percentage of teen mothers delivering at its facilities. A small 2014 study by the Centre for AIDS Development, Research and Evaluation (CADRE) among teenage parents, health workers, teachers and traditional leaders in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal found that teen parents reported a strong sense of shame at having disappointed their parents, financial hardship and feelings of isolation.
A 2008 South African Labour and Development Research Unit survey found that up to about 80 percent of teen mothers did not return to school following the birth of their child. This may put some at risk for a second pregnancy, according to the Department of Basic Education’s Deputy Director of Social Mobilisation and Support Services Granville Whittle.
“They are more likely to fall pregnant when they have dropped out of school,” said Granville at the recent SA AIDS Conference. “We know that when a young girl is refused access to school when she falls pregnant that she is likely to fall pregnant again within six months.”
In the Free State, a 15-year-old Dineo* does not just feel alone – she is alone.
Having lost both her parents at the age of 14, Dineo was staying with her grandmother until earlier this year when she also died.
“No one knows I am pregnant, not even my boyfriend’s family,” she said. “I don’t know what to say nor to do. I did consider an abortion, but my boyfriend and I are scared and are still thinking of ways to tell his mother.”
The SALDRU survey said that it was essential to strengthen prevention programmes and support services for teen mothers and their children.
Safe sex message being heard
In Limpopo’s Tshanzhe village, young girls say they think the rate of teen pregnancy has dropped. Andisa Mbodi, 17, says she thinks teens have gotten the message about safe sex.[quote float= right]The only way to deal with it is accept it, help your child and try to show her ways and manners not to get pregnant again”
“We are proud as a village that there are still young women who know how to keep safe,” she told OurHealth. “The rate of teenage pregnancies around the village has dropped which shows that people are getting the message: Rather safe than sorry.”
Nationally, young people between the ages of 15 to 24 are the most likely to use condoms but the percentage of young people who reported using condoms the last time they had sex has fallen sharply since 2008, according to the latest Human Sciences Research Council houshold survey.
As the Department of Basic Education mulls a new draft policy to provide male and female condoms in school, one mom says the best thing to do for young, new parents is support them.
Northern Cape mum Lisa Kam said she was very unhappy when her daughter Martha, still a teenager, fell pregnant.
“My daughter was not even working, but fortunately the man who made her pregnant was very supportive,” Kam said. “I feel the only way to deal with it is accept it, help your child and try to show her ways and manners not to get pregnant again. Family planning at the clinic should help the young women and would empower them.”
*Name withheld to protect the child
* Reporting by Suprise Nemalale, Bontle Motsoeneng and Kedibonye Polao
An edited version of this story was also published on Health24.com