SA’s teen pregnancy problem

by Tshepy Matloga-Malope
Teen pregnancy is a pressing issue worldwide, and South Africa has an epidemic. How do we navigate this as parents?
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Teen pregnancy is a pressing issue worldwide, and South Africa has an epidemic. How do we navigate this as parents? By Tshepy Matloga-Malope.

Approximately 16 million adolescent girls aged 15–19 give birth each year, contributing to nearly 11% of all births worldwide, and many of these are the result of unintended pregnancies. More than 90% of these births occur in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) [1–4].

Impact of teen pregnancy

According to the latest statistics, South Africa has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in sub-Saharan Africa. A study conducted by the South African Medical Research Council found that approximately 30% of all pregnancies in the country occur among teenage girls aged between 15 and 19. The impact of these unintended pregnancies includes depression, anxiety, and early school dropouts, which may further exacerbate the cycle of poverty.

Contributing factors for teen pregnancy

Adolescent and young women, especially those in the younger age group of 15–19 years, experience difficulties in accessing contraception services, mainly at the interpersonal and health service levels.

Lack of support for the use of contraceptives from parents and carers as well as from sexual partners were key barriers at the interpersonal level, while providers’ negative attitudes were the main barrier at the health service level.

According to Dr. Kim Jonas, Specialist Scientist, Health Systems Research Unit at the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), “lack of parental and partner support to use contraceptives is a contributing factor to teenage pregnancy, including myths and misinformation about the different types of contraceptives and stigma associated with being seen at the health facility for contraceptives,” she says. 

This alarming trend not only puts the health and well-being of young mothers at risk but also has profound social and economic consequences, posing significant challenges to their families and society as a whole.

Read: 21 Early signs of pregnancy

Parent’s guide to managing teen pregnancy

 Dealing with teenage pregnancy as a parent can be incredibly challenging. Here is how parents can deal best with it: 

  • It is essential for parents to approach the situation with empathy, understanding, and open communication. It is crucial to create a safe and supportive environment for their teenage daughters to discuss their feelings, fears, and concerns openly.
  • Many teen moms feel isolated and alone during pregnancy, and this should not be the case. They need to know that their family does not judge them for falling pregnant, as that causes them too much emotional stress, which affects their mental health and wellbeing. 
  • Pregnant teens also need to be educated about becoming moms, supported, and encouraged to go for antenatal care.
  • Pregnant teenagers also need to be supported with the school curriculum to ensure that they are not left behind and that they are able to continue with school soon after delivery. If possible or feasible, be allowed to resume school as soon as possible after delivery, and the parents can help look after the baby or provide support for the baby’s aftercare.

Check out: Is it Ok to let you kids drink alcohol

 The role of schools & communities

It is also crucial for schools and communities to provide comprehensive sex education programmes that empower young people with the knowledge and skills to make informed decisions about their sexual health.

“There is a need for a collaborative approach from all different key players (DoH, DBE, DSD, and community/youth representatives) to address the challenges in access and use of contraceptives by adolescent girls. It’s not going to be a one-size-fits-all or a once-off approach. It needs to be a continuous and adaptive process, focusing on expanding access, diminishing the myths and misconceptions in the communities, and involving parents and young men in the strategies,” advises  Dr. Jonas.

It is also essential for policymakers, healthcare providers, educators, and community leaders to work together to implement effective strategies and programs. By investing in sexual and reproductive health services, promoting gender equality, and providing support for young mothers, we can create a more inclusive and supportive society for all.

By promoting awareness, understanding, and access to contraception, we can help prevent unintended teen pregnancies and reduce the risks associated with early motherhood.

Read: 15 pregnancy realities they don’t tell you about

teen pregnancy

Frequently asked questions (FAQ’s) on teen pregnancy

What are some factors contributing to the surge in teenage pregnancies in South Africa?

Factors contributing to the surge in teenage pregnancies include socio-economic difficulties, inadequate sex education, gender-based violence, limited access to contraception, and the stigma and mental health impact associated with teenage parenthood.

How many teenage pregnancies were recorded in South Africa between April 2021 and March 2022?

Between April 2021 and March 2022, 90,000 pregnancies were recorded for girls aged ten to 19 years in South Africa, with over 150,000 young girls becoming pregnant in the 2022-’23 financial year.

What are some challenges faced by teenage mothers in South Africa?

Challenges faced by teenage mothers in South Africa include emotional and psychological difficulties, societal stigma, abrupt transitions to parenthood, and stress, which can lead to anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

What are the key strategies to address teenage pregnancies in South Africa?

Key strategies to address teenage pregnancies in South Africa include comprehensive sex education, accessible healthcare services, community outreach programs, youth-friendly clinics, mental health support, and advocacy for policy changes promoting reproductive rights and gender equality.

How can comprehensive sex education help in reducing teenage pregnancies?

Comprehensive sex education empowers young people with knowledge about reproductive health, contraception, and consent, which can help them make informed choices and reduce the risk of unplanned pregnancies.

Why is it important to ensure access to reproductive healthcare services for adolescents?

Ensuring access to reproductive healthcare services for adolescents is important because it enables them to access contraceptive options, family planning counseling, and antenatal care, contributing to the prevention of teenage pregnancies and improvement of maternal and child health outcomes.

What role do community outreach programs play in addressing teenage pregnancies?

Community outreach programs play a vital role in raising awareness, reducing stigma, and providing information on sexual health to adolescents and their communities, thereby contributing to the prevention of teenage pregnancies.

How can youth-friendly clinics support teenagers facing reproductive health challenges?

Youth-friendly clinics offer confidential services and support tailored to the needs of adolescents, providing a safe and welcoming environment where teenagers can access reproductive healthcare services and receive guidance and counseling.

What are some advocacy efforts needed to address teenage pregnancies?

Advocacy efforts needed to address teenage pregnancies include promoting policies that promote reproductive rights, gender equality, and youth empowerment, as well as advocating for increased funding and resources for comprehensive sex education and reproductive healthcare services.

What are the long-term goals of initiatives aimed at reducing teenage pregnancies in South Africa?

The long-term goals of initiatives aimed at reducing teenage pregnancies in South Africa include improving maternal and child health outcomes, empowering young people to make informed choices about their reproductive health, and promoting gender equality and social justice.

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