The story of a Grade 11 pupil who gave birth at a school in Johannesburg last year, presents challenges to us all. This was the second incident in two months.
Other stories like this about schoolgirls becoming mothers when they are still children themselves, have been in the media in recent months. Many of these young girls are too young or too poor to take proper care of their babies.
Last year, the Department of Education released a document called theMeasurement on the Prevention and Management of Learner Pregnancy. The document was sent to all schools in the country.
It gives guidelines and steps taken by the Department of Education. It also warns of the health dangers of early pregnancy and of unprotected sex, which can lead to infections including HIV and AIDS.
Dangers and risks
Education Minister, Naledi Pandor, said schoolgirls put their health and their futures at risk when they get pregnant.
“We know that teenage mothers are less likely to finish school. And that means they are less likely than their friends or boyfriends to get jobs,“ she said. ”Teenage mothers are likely to become single parents and to live in poverty. This puts their children, especially girls, at risk of poor health and of becoming teenage mothers themselves.”
Pandor added that dropping out of school is also a major cost to our society and the country’s economy. “We need to keep schoolchildren in school until they matriculate so that they are able to contribute to economic growth and our national project of development and transformation.”
This is why the Department of Education aims to ensure that learners will have opportunities to continue their education.
The department uses the Constitution as a guide when handling learners who fall pregnant. It does not allow discrimination on the basis of pregnancy.
The South African Schools Act states that a learner who falls pregnant may not be prevented from attending school.
But while the department encourages learners to continue with their education, it also expects young people to take responsibility for their actions, as well as for their own health and the health of their babies.
Schools are places of learning and not for giving birth. There are no midwives at schools, and teachers should not be responsible for helping with births, the department said.
The department believes that learners who become pregnant should take full responsibility for their babies. A period of two years may be necessary for this purpose. No learner should be allowed to go back to school in the same year that they left school due to pregnancy.
For the sake of their own health and the health of their babies pregnant learners should go to their nearest clinic or doctor for advice and care. Boys must also take responsibility for their actions. Like girls, unmarried fathers have a parental responsibility for their children.
“They should think long and hard about care and support and not leave women in a family to do all the work,” the Minister of Education said.
Mr Learners who go back to school after giving birth must have medical reports showing that they are fit to start with classes again. They must also prove that proper arrangements have been made for the care and safety of their babies.
Schools must strongly encourage learners to continue with their education before and after their babies had been born.
Schools are allowed to develop their own programmes to support the prevention and management of learner pregnancy. But they must make sure that such programmes are in line with the Department of Education’s guidelines.
- Ndivhuwo Khangale