Even though recent studies suggest that the teenage pregnancy rate in South Africa has remained relatively stable in recent years, it is difficult to ignore the fact that 71 out of every 1000 births annually are to teenage mothers. In 2013 there were 99 000 teenage pregnancies in our country (that’s 271 girls falling pregnant every day), not to mention the increased risk for contracting HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Diseases.
Falling pregnant during the teenage years may have a seriously negative impact on a girl’s education. Pregnant girls are much more likely to drop out of school early, which in turn results in negative cycles of poverty and unemployment. Girls who fall pregnant during the teenage years also have a higher chance of a repeat pregnancy (i.e. falling pregnant again) soon after the birth of their first child.
For most girls, their entire world and frame of reference changes dramatically. Many report that they can no longer relate to their peers and are unable to go out or spend time with their friends to enjoy typical teenage activities. They feel isolated and find themselves in a peculiar catch-22 situation as they also have limited interaction with other mothers, who are generally older women that they cannot relate to either.
Many pregnant teens find that they need to change or, in some cases entirely abandon their career plans meaning that a teenage pregnancy not only changes who they are but also who they wanted to be.
Without adequate intervention children born to teenage mothers are at risk for lower IQ and academic achievement, including a risk of repeating a grade.
A teenage pregnancy brings many emotional as well as financial challenges for the family as a whole. Living arrangements might need to be changed once a baby is born; child care will have to be arranged and supplies acquired.
Given all the negative consequences, why is teenage pregnancy still so prevalent in our country?
The increased vulnerability to experimentation with and abuse of substances during the teenage years may play a role. It is also a sad fact of the way we live these days that parents are busier than ever and a lack of adequate monitoring may lead to increased sexual experimentation and activity. In many of our communities and schools there is a lack of guidance, not only about the negative implications resulting from teenage pregnancy but also positive guidance helping teenagers to consider and discover the goals and dreams for the future.
Our primary focus should be on the prevention of teenage pregnancies, but once a girl finds herself in this precarious position it is extremely important that she receives adequate support. Many girls might hide their pregnancies initially for fear of getting into trouble and may thus not receive adequate medical care and prenatal monitoring. Teens may need additional guidance in how to care care of themselves – ensuring that they follow a nutritious diet, get enough exercise and abstain from using harmful substances such as drugs or alcohol. It is also vital that pregnant teenage girls (as well as the future fathers) receive counselling and emotional support as they are likely to experience a range of conflicting emotions including intense guilt, concerns for the baby’s health and overwhelming feelings of having disappointed or alienated their friends and loved ones. In addition to this, pregnant teenage mothers will also require academic and career guidance to help them plan adequately for their futures.
The teenager’s parents (and future grand parents) have a very important role to play when it comes to guiding, raising and monitoring little ones and teens often simply do not have the skillset to successfully raise children on their own and they have to be taught how to parent. Continual engagement and guidance to the baby’s father is also important to enable him to share in the workload and responsibility of parenting. There are several organisations throughout South Africa that provide support for teenage mothers and their families – don’t hesitate to contact them if you need help:
- Mamkhulu.org in Mpumalanga www.mamkhulu.org
- Teen Moms Youth Development run by Options Care Centre in George www.optionsgeorge.com
- The Parent Centre in Wynberg, Cape Town www.theparentcentre.org.za
- Lifeline Pregnancy Support www.lifelinepregnancysupport.org.za