By Dr Kalpesh Prahlad Ramcharan
Teenage pregnancy has become a norm in South African society. According to the Department of Education, more than 72 000 females did not attend school last year, due to this factor. 5868 of these girls were from KwaZulu Natal.
Even more alarming is the fact that this figure does not include those girls who left school permanently due to pregnancy or those who changed schools because of the stigmata attached to underage pregnancy.
There are many contributory factors to the increased number of teenage pregnancies. In most interpersonal relationships gender imbalance play a crucial role. Many female teenagers are intimidated into a sexual relationship to ensure continuity of the relationship. A lack of understanding and knowledge of the body’s reproductive system, a lack of sex education, inadequate access to contraceptives or family planning clinics and access child care grants, are also contributory factors.
Teenage pregnancy changes the teenagers’ lives forever and in most instances, in a negative way. They leave school and many never return because of the need to care for their children. Even if they do have the opportunity to continue with their education, many chose not to because of stigmas. The implication of teenage pregnancy is far greater than just having a baby. The young mother misses out on her own development. She can no longer have the experience that other teenagers can, because she has a greater responsibility to her child. Career dreams and goals are shuttered.
Teenage pregnancy culminates in a life that is not allowed to develop into its full potential- a great many opportunities are lost while the girls attend to their babies. Many of these girls are forced into mediocre jobs to earn an income.
In a society were teenagers are currently exposed to poverty, crime, HIV/AIDS and unemployment, it would seem logical that they would want for a better future. However, the impact of teenage pregnancy has a very visible presence in our society.
What do we do as society? The societal impact of teenage pregnancies far outweighs the medical complications that can arise. It is imperative that parents start communicating with their children. Parents have to talk to their teenagers about life, sex, the implications and dangers of unprotected sex, and the frightening reality of HIV/AIDS. They need to not only speak but listen to their children and reassure them that if they get into any difficulty, they can turn to their parents without being harassed.
The education department needs to develop a curriculum regarding these issues in school and it needs to be presented in a format that would captivate and intrigue youth.
Cycle of Poverty
Each one of us has the responsibility to care for the well being of our youth. We have to save the future generation to ensure they do not perpetuate a cycle of poverty. They have to realize the importance of completing their education and becoming productive members of society. Social supports for teenagers are hopelessly inadequate and need to be developed to afford these girls alternatives to becoming pregnant. More importantly, men need to realize the implications of their behavior and also take responsibility for their part in this escalating problem.