Teenage Pregnancy & Comprehensive Sexuality Education

Basic Education

07 September 2021
Chairperson: Ms B Mbinqo-Gigaba (ANC)
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Meeting Summary


The Portfolio Committee unanimously agreed that a holistic approach is required to deal with reducing teenage pregnancy in South Africa. Teenage pregnancies rose since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Department of Basic Education (DBE) briefed the Committee on its programmes to address teenage pregnancy. It informed the Committee that girl learners do not drop out of school because they fall pregnant. Rather, they fall pregnant because they drop out of school. The Committee heard that approximately 33% of girls do not return to school after falling pregnant. It was important that girls remained in school for as long as possible, and that they should be encouraged to continue with classes after having their baby. It is important that they return to school because if they do not, they are more likely to have multiple pregnancies and face other risks like rape, gender-based violence and exploitation by older men.

The Committee heard that gender-based violence and teen pregnancies in South Africa spiked during Covid-19 lockdown. School closures and lockdown measures resulted in loss of education and social protection, especially for adolescent girls. This resulted in significant increases in teen pregnancy, sexual exploitation, sexual violence.

The Committee heard that 30% of teenage girls between 10 and 19 years old in South Africa fall pregnant and more than 65% of these are unplanned pregnancies. Between April 2020 and March 2021, provincial statistics for delivery in medical facilities showed the Northern Cape had the highest number of teen pregnancies (19.3%), followed by Eastern Cape (17.1%), KwaZulu-Natal (16.5%) and Mpumalanga (15.5%). Gauteng recorded the fewest teen pregnancies with 8.9%. There are about 1300 newly HIV infected adolescent girls and young women in South Africa per week.

DBE made a strong case for Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) – a curriculum-based process of teaching and learning about the cognitive, emotional, physical and social aspects of sexuality. CSE aims to empower learners to:
- Identify and report sexual abuse
- Remain HIV negative and remain on treatment if positive
- Prevent pregnancy
- Prevent bullying and to deal with negative peer pressure
- Know where to get help (in cases of rape, TB and ART, contraception, substance abuse)
- Stay in school until they complete Grade 12.

Meeting report

Dr Granville Whittle, DBE Deputy Director General: Educational Enrichment Services, noted key findings of recent research studies:
- One million girls in sub-Saharan Africa are at risk of not returning to school because of pregnancy (65% increase in early pregnancies in SADC member states)
- For the most vulnerable young people, education is lifesaving – schools are spaces of support, providing nutrition, Psychosocial Support (PSS) and Sexual Reproductive Health Services (SRHS)
- Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) provided in school is a critical support and service for adolescent girls and young women (AGYW).

- In South Africa, 37% spike in GBV complaints in the first week of total lockdown
- Children are often victims/witnesses of domestic violence – which was exacerbated during COVID-19 lockdown
- Harmful impact on physical health, mental development, and well-being
- School closures and containment measures result in loss of education, and social protections – especially for adolescent girls
- Resulted in significant increases in teen pregnancy, sexual exploitation, sexual violence, and forced/early marriages in sub-Saharan Africa

AGYW are more vulnerable and face many overlapping challenges in society:
- HIV prevalence among girls is four times greater than boys
- Girls are prone to high levels of sexually transmitted infections
- Girls are particularly vulnerable to GBV, rape and exploitation by older men
- Gender inequity and power imbalances in relationships
- Poverty and inequitable access to health and social services

Curriculum-based sexuality education programmes contribute to these outcomes:
- Delayed initiation of sexual intercourse 
- Decreased frequency of sexual intercourse
- Decreased number of sexual partners
- Reduced risk taking
- Increased use of condoms
- Increased use of contraception
- Sexuality education increases knowledge and improves attitudes about different aspects of sexuality, behaviours and risks of pregnancy, HIV and STIs
- CSE has a positive effect on young people’s health outcomes when delivered as intended.

Mr P Moroatshela (ANC) said that it is important that they deal with one of the most sensitive challenges, which does not affect only the basic education system but the entire society. His observation in communities, politics or religion is that the subjects not talked about in life often come back to deal with us. Traditionally it was taboo for our communities to engage children on matters of sexuality. We want to commend the Department of Basic Education (DBE) for coming up with concept and approach such as Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE). Our kids must be taught what is right and what is wrong from the onset and not be taken aback by unnecessary surprises.

Mr Moroatshela said CSE, negative peer abuse, drug abuse, unprecedented dropouts cannot be separated from each other. Due to this challenge we appreciate and welcome the policy management on sexuality education and teenage pregnancy prevention. The Committee wants to be clear how it is going to be cascaded down to the school learner. School children must be the beneficiaries of these measures and good policies. He welcomed the notion in the Department that says ‘let’s keep our children in schools and reduce the high rate of unneeded teenage pregnancy’.

Mr G Hendricks (Al Jama-ah) congratulated DBE for its programmes to keep learners occupied, and to empower them while they were at schools. The bad news is that in the two hour radio show run by learners on Fridays, they tell the youth to go crazy on the weekend. Funding from the European Union, America, and local foundations must not push European and Western values but African values. African values must be strengthened by the equality clause in our Constitution. When he got the Presidency's support for full employment, learners who do not pursue basic education must be guaranteed employment.

Mr Hendricks said that the Al Jama-ah party is concerned that coloured female learners are getting the short end of the sticker and more needs to be done. When they have a progressive movement in the nine provinces, they find out from the learners what their concerns are. He was hoping to share that with the Portfolio Committee and the Department. The values of Chief Albert Luthuli and other African leaders on fatherhood must be taught so they can capture the thoughts of learners.

Ms D Van Der Walt (DA) spoke about often seeing children from six, eleven and fourteen raped by the community members such as traditional healers, counsellors, and family members. Court cases are dropped continually as these older men pay families to not open a case or to drop charges. She was concerned about the increasing statistics. It should be compulsory for incidents involving learners who are the most vulnerable to be reported.

Limpopo school learner pregnancies are around 1378. That number could fill a new school. She asked DBE to give a provincial breakdown of the number of girls by age as that is important to know. In this era we are in, everything has become a teacher’s responsibility. Teachers are in class to teach learners so that they can get a good education and find their way after school economically and look after themselves and their families. However, girls do not get there because of this problem.

Ms Van Der Walt said that students studying in a therapeutic direction that cannot be utilised in the health sector, why is DBE not fighting to get some of them to do their practical years in schools that are most affected. They could work together with the Departments of Health and Higher Education to place these students in these schools in provinces.

She asked about the study done on Teenage Pregnancy in South Africa with specific focus on government school learners in 2012. Why have they not done an updated study? She asked if this study is available to Members.

Ms Van Der Walt said that they are not winning the battle against bullying. She acknowledged what DBE is trying to do; that it has around 24 000 schools and she is not sure if it would be able to monitor them all. It is not known if the provinces are giving out exact factual statistics. We have the Covid-19 pandemic worldwide. The President announced that GBV is the second pandemic in the country, but teenage pregnancy is the third pandemic.

She asked why the girls have to look after their pregnancies for nine months, sometimes going through abortions or raising the child while the boy or man walks free. We are fighting for our girls to get educated so they can make a living for themselves and reach their goals. We must deal carefully with this type of information.

Mr T Letsie (ANC) said DBE clearly said that even though adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) are found in the Basic Education space, this problem cannot be resolved by DBE alone. This pandemic needs not only DBE but all role players such as communities, Members of Parliament, churches, and the South African Police Service (SAPS) to play their role.

If a child between the ages of 10 and 19 falls pregnant, SAPS must investigate who impregnated the girl, and possibly infected her with HIV. Parents should play an active role in making sure that they report this. In situations where parents do not report, then neighbours should report it. Sometimes it is a family member who rapes and impregnates the girl. If the mother is single and unemployed, she will keep quiet, thinking that if she reports the breadwinner they will suffer. This needs a holistic approach with community members, Social Development, and SAPS involved.

Mr Letsie pleaded with Members of Parliament from different political parties to use their airtime and the spaces they share in their constituencies to educate people and speak with one voice. We must not use this pandemic as a political campaign tool against each other. Statistics states that 4.4 million children in SA are living with HIV, and it is only those who have been tested. The number could be than this, meaning that we need to play a critical role.

Mr Letsie said that some political parties might not want to venture into this space; they need to be honest and be open about being lobbyists. He appealed to the Members present, and other political parties to take this opportunity and play their role as public figures that have been voted in by millions of South African. CSE is not necessarily sex education; DBE's motive is not to teach learners how to have sex, but it teaches them how to do it safely if they are in that space. If there are schools that sexualise graphics they need to be called out and reported to DBE.

He asked for a written response outlining the numbers by race, because majority of these kids are coming from black, Indian and coloured communities. The Committee wants to know where they are and he assumed that most of them are in rural and township areas affected by poverty. If there are specific schools highly affected, give us those numbers. He asked for clarity about the 12.67% statistic. The reason he asked was to unpack these numbers for those who were watching this meeting at home to understand.

He spoke about the HIV programmes listed in the presentation such as NACOSA, AFSA, Beyond Zero, Government to Government (G2G), and Dreams. Multiple programmes have been implemented in many districts. He asked if DBE could give a breakdown on the positive impact of these programmes per district. When these programmes are implemented, they made a positive impact in reducing teenage pregnancy and the HIV infection rate. He asked why these programmes were not implemented throughout the country to reduce HIV numbers.

Mr Letsie said that it is highly concerning that the Northern Cape has the highest number of teenage pregnancies. This means that provinces where there are fewer economic activities, higher unemployment and poverty levels, it is likely to find higher number of kids sexually active from a young age. He agreed with Ms Van Der Walt about ensuring that the men responsible are reported.

Dr S Thembekwayo (EFF) asked about the impact of Covid-19 on the number of adolescent girls who had sexual relationships with older sexual partners thus increasing sexual behaviour amongst adolescents. Does the study include the number of teenage girls who get pregnant from being raped by fathers and family members? How are parents and victims capacitated to speak up in such cases? How are they included in policy making? She asked why those are not included from the beginning so that their contribution could be included in solving the problems we are facing. She also asked about ‘Let’s Talk’ project which enabled girls to come together in that programme. Who are these participants and from where are they drawn in the provinces? This would determine the reliability and validity of the findings used in drawing up policies.

Dr Thembekwayo referred to the presentation slides on the AGYW programme that offers a core service and layered services. She asked which privileged schools are these chosen to receive these layered services. How and when will all other schools be included? She asked about the learner and educator mentorships received outside of class. Did they evaluate the success or failure of this? How many learners and educators are receiving mentorship, specifically learners?

She asked about the Zimele Project appraisal between 2016 and 2019 noted in the presentation. What were the number of respondents and from where were they drawn?

Mr E Siwela (ANC) said that the problem of teenage pregnancy is well documented, and everyone is aware of it and its consequences. The question we must ask ourselves is why is it like this? Our school and societal systems are failing to teach our children the values, principles and morals for them to live a meaningful life. What must be done to bring back the morality that is needed to children, parents, GBV perpetrators, and those who think it is right to impregnate young girls?

The Department with its constitutional duty and obligation to teach and educate our learners should not shy away from doing so. Our culture and religious beliefs should not stop DBE from doing what is morally and constitutionally right. We cannot deal with this challenge without addressing the infrastructural problem our schools and society have such as lack of recreational facilities to keep children entertained.

Ms M Sukers (ACDP) said that Article 26(3) of Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that should be given to their children". The state cannot assume rights to educate children in a way that is against the values of their parents. This was not stated in the presentation, which is very concerning as a parent. She asked about the role of social media, its impact on this age group, and how it impacts children views on sexuality. The Department faces several challenges and the main one is that it does not have recent useful research.

The 'Teenage Pregnancy in South Africa: School Going Learners' study completed in 2009 is outdated. The world has changed dramatically in ten years, especially when it comes to social media, access to information, and how children educate themselves. The 'Evaluation of a School-Based Sexuality and HIV-Prevention Activity in South Africa: Midline Qualitative Report' did not include demographics and it only focused on two provinces. The midline study said that the data will be collected over three study years, including July to October 2018 – was the study completed? If yes, she asked for the final report.

DBE research agenda for 2019 to 2023 was reviewed and no plans were indicated for CSE and Teenage Pregnancy research. She asked if DBE is planning to research these subjects, if not, why? Research in the United States of America shows that 10% of learners have been sexually abused by educators. When is DBE planning to do research on this? DBE needs to improve its engagement model and processes. CSE is rejected by many because of insufficient engagement and the manner of engagement.

Ms Sukers asked which DBE director is responsible for engagement in community relations. What engagement policy does DBE have? How do we measure the stable dissatisfaction with its engagement? She asked for the policy to be forwarded to the Committee. She asked if DBE has a system that allows stakeholders to register as interested and affected parties.

She asked if DBE engages with stakeholders on standards. If yes, who are these stakeholders? She asked who DBE engaged with to develop the content for Life Skills and on values. We need to find best ways to get our young girls to live a meaningful life. She asked when choosing to do the CSE programme, what alternatives did DBE consider?

Ms Sukers said that emphasis is given to the girl child, but there needed to be an emphasis on educating boys. We need to research the behaviour of boys and have programmes focusing on them. She asked why we are not using tools such as social media and the fourth industrial revolution to conduct CSE research. How is DBE using big data to address teenage pregnancy?

Ms N Adoons (ANC) said that during Covid-19 lockdown all departments came together to address the saving of lives and livelihoods of the society. Such collaboration is needed to address this challenge. Members need to look at this challenge not as leaders, but as parents. DBE has limited resources and it cannot do much. The report stated that high teenage pregnancy leads to high learner dropouts. When these things happen, parents must play their role.

African and cultural values must be looked at to promote some of the good practices that we know. We must educate children on how to behave and leave a legacy. Young girls are robbed of the chance to be children. Young girls are impregnated and infected with HIV. It is a criminal offence. However, the role of DBE and teachers is limited. GBV cases have risen during lockdown period and cases of rape have been reported. If we have such challenges when we were locked with our children in our homes, what must teachers or principals do? As parents we are failing our children.

Ms Adoons asked about the role of school governing bodies – how empowered are they in dealing with this challenge? School governing bodies (SGBs) are parents and they see these challenges. How are they able to bring forward this information to come up with solutions? It is too much for teachers both to look after learners in class and worry about them outside of the schoolyard. The voices of learners must be heard and captured in the policy making process, so that we know how to assist them.

Ms Adoons said that in her generation sex education was ignored and many pregnant young girls dropped out of school. This is not a new challenge, it needs all of us to engage. 'It takes a village to raise a child' which means that everybody must be involved. We need to hear the voices of men talking about campaigning to ensure that this matter is resolved. She asked who the fathers are of these pregnant young girls, where they are and what role are they playing. She asked who is supposed to monitor the role of these fathers.

A question was asked if national policies are coordinated so that they reach learners and are implemented at school level. Where do learners who drop out end up in society? When the Committee does oversight or meets with DBE, it must have a monitoring system that reports all these cases and tracks learner drop-outs.

Ms Van Der Walt noted that age difference plays a role in distinguishing between a criminal offence and a social offence. There must not be statistics on girls only but also on boys.

The Chairperson said that all Members agree that this is a very emotional and sensitive subject. This is not the first time they are dealing with CSE and teenage pregnancy. We all are raising children and there is no formula that guides parents on how to raise children.

She asked what the 2021 Draft Policy for the Prevention and Management of Learner Pregnancy entails for the prevention of learner pregnancy. The stakeholders used by DBE do not reach homes where these problems are found. Children affected by teenage pregnancy come from families where parents abuse alcohol. They come from homes that are highly affected by poverty. This causes parents to leave children alone in rural areas to go and look for jobs in urban areas.

The report states that Northern Cape has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy, which is one area most affected by poverty. Most of the people in this area abuse alcohol and this leads to a high rate of teenage pregnancy. She asked how we make parents talk to their children. When we have breakfast and dinner, how many of us talk to our children? We do not talk and understand what our children are going through.

The reality of the report statistics is that most of the affected learners are coming from black communities. White girl learners are less affected by this problem. In most communities, learners go to school without having support from their parents. This matter needs us to be calm when dealing with it.

The Chairperson was in shock about SA having the highest number of teenage pregnancies throughout SADC. She asked what the country is doing and the strategies we have. For example countries like Uganda use the ABC (Abstain, Be faithful & Condomise) strategy. She asked when our country would have children at a young age understand this strategy.

As Members, they must have their own input in bringing change to society. There is a difference between the educated and uneducated. Most of our people are still not well educated at a level of changing the way they see things culturally.

Deputy Minister response
Dr Reginah Mhaule, Deputy Minister of Education, said that for the questions on statistics we do not have ready answers now, but it does not mean the information is not available. The challenge of teenage pregnancy is a societal matter. Teachers are responsible for learners for eight hours only. In most cases these learners fall pregnant outside of schools.

These learners are impregnated by their biological fathers, stepfathers, and uncles at home. The Department can come with a mechanism of fighting with HIV. But fighting pregnancy may not be easy. We can teach young children to condomise, but at home they cannot except for men.

Teenage pregnancy has to do with moral decay in society. We must include all sectors of society and be led by society leaders. DBE would not call a community meeting on its own, but if it is invited by the community, it would go and present.

These are matters of culture and religion; the community must focus on moral regeneration. Then we can fight moral decay in society. When they look at the causes for teenage pregnancies, only a few are coming from schools. It happens that when a learner is impregnated by her biological father, the mother will keep it a secret.

DBE response
Mr Mathanzima Mweli, DBE Director General, stated that if DBE cannot reply to all questions, the standard practice is that the responses will be provided within seven days.

DBE encourages the reporting of rape cases. It engages with organisations such as parent associations and SGBs. The Department deals with situations where parents are manipulated or discouraged from reporting rape cases. The law enforcement agency is involved, and the state plays an important role in this situation.

A list of questions in writing would be appreciated for DBE to respond. For policy consultation, the National Education Policy Act defines the stakeholders DBE needs to interact with. Internally in the Department its organised formations of teachers, SGBs, professional bodies, and learners. The public which is one of the biggest stakeholders is also invited to comment. The civil society forum represents over 600 organisations including NGOs in education. We meet with them regularly as organised by the National Education Collaboration Trust.

Mr Mweli thanked Members for the advice that DBE should not be euro-centric in its approach and values in education. Indigenous knowledge and African values should be considered and bring in other African institutions and leaders that can help in this.

Mr Mweli replied to a complaint by Ms Van Der Walt about the written responses to previous questions that he would revisit the questions and ensure he responds adequately. He was humbled by Mr Letsie's comments and thanked him for the points raised. Mr Siwela made a very good point and articulated the issue very well. He thanked Ms Adoons for her contribution and agreed with her in saying that they must do more to educate learners. He also agreed on not focusing only on girl learners but also boy learners.

Dr Granville Whittle replied that DBE relies primarily on three data sets to track learner pregnancies. These are from the Department of Health, Department of Home Affairs, and probably the most unreliable one which are schools.

He replied that DBE does not capture information on the boys who impregnate girl learners in schools. It is very difficult to track that.

At Birth Registrations in the Department of Home Affairs, there is a large category of women that are reporting a birth at the age of 55 to 70. Our reading of this is that those are women who know that their child was raped and know the man who did it. They probably chose to register the birth as their own, instead of reporting the matter to the police.

Dr Whittle said it is difficult for them to track in which grade the young girls are who gives birth. The Department of Health does not want to force young girls in facilities to provide a lot of information. They do not want to scare them away. They can provide the provinces where these young girls and learners are located.

On therapists having practical internships in the Department of Education, Dr Whittle replied that some provinces are working with Departments of Health and Social Development. They managed to place some therapists and social workers in some schools. It is something that we can continue to do and work with these two departments.

Dr Whittle replied that the figures do include rape by fathers and other rape cases.

On the engagement with young people and who these young participants are, DBE organised a programme where young school learners come together, which took place across the country. They received career guidance and had talks about GBV. The Deputy Minister has online discussions with young people, together with a few other deputy ministers where they reach out and talk to them.

Dr Whittle said the AGYW programme offers a Core Service where it currently works in high HIV-burden districts. A range of criteria is used. Within the district it identifies sub-districts that are vulnerable, which provide a list of high schools and primary schools for the programme. In some instances, we have a principal write to us and indicate that they are struggling with a high rate of teenage pregnancy. We therefore redirect some of our resources to them.

A full evaluation on the Dreams programme which ended in 2019 has been conducted. The report will be made available to Members.

Dr Whittle responded that the Zimele Project sample size is not known as the study was conducted in the Western Cape. They would avail the study and sample size to the Committee. The study referred to by Ms Sukers which was concluded in 2019 would be made available.

Mr Mweli replied about South Africa doing research like the US on learners abused by educators. DBE does not always conduct the research itself because of the costs associated. It relies on higher education institutions for the research conducted. There is an interesting series of advocacy briefs developed on Children and Covid-19 by the Children's Institute at the University of Cape Town. They have produced eight advocacy briefs. One of the briefs focuses on violence and abuse. They will be made available.

When choosing to do CSE, one of the alternatives was the ABC strategy referred to by the Chairperson. In its initial response to the HIV pandemic, DBE promoted extensively ABC and a comprehensive study was done on its impact.

He agreed with Ms Sukers on the importance of a focus on boys. These were some interesting trends beginning to show in the 2017 HSRC National HIV Prevalence survey. It shows the incidence rate for boys is picking up. It is an important warning sign for us.

With the high GBV rates, a study was done by Dr Rachel Dukes at the Medical Research Council to tracking girl-boy relationships in schools, HIV infection and pregnancy. It found high GBV rates in schools. It is one reason indicating more work is needed in improving programmes for boys.

He welcomed the comments of Ms Adoons encouraging strong collaboration and acknowledging that this is something that needs us to work together.

The Draft Policy presented to Cabinet for approval was a response to the measures of managing teenage pregnancy published by DBE in 2007-2008. These measures advocated for boys who impregnated girls to be excluded from school for a period of two years. This was part of the reason DBE initiated the 2009 study to look at the impact of that policy guidance issued to schools. The Department was taken to court by two schools in the Free State and they lost the case in the Constitutional Court. They were asked to provide new policy which would not exclude pregnant girls from attending schools.

The Draft Policy has five pillars: environment, prevention, counselling and support, impact mitigation (if learners have been off school to support them when they return), policy management and coordination mechanism to allow effective implementation.

There is a direct link between HIV acquisition and pregnancy. In pregnancy it is a proxy for the fact that there was unprotected sexual intercourse. It is an indicator for getting infected with HIV.

Dr Whittle replied that the 4.4 million referred to was HIV prevalence in adolescent girls and young women (AGYW). South Africa has the highest prevalence rate in this group in the world.

Dr Mhaule asked that those questions that were not addressed in the responses, if Members could submit those in writing so DBE can respond to them. When it comes to social media, and addressing bullying and safety at school, DBE works with the Security cluster such as the Ministers of Police, Home Affairs and Communications to address cyber bullying. She spoke of the awareness campaign that DBE has against bullying, which addresses cyber bullying.

Ms Sukers clarified that her question on social media was asking what research was done to look at the impact of social media and how it informs children's views on sexuality.

Ms Sukers replied about CSE saying that South Africa is a state party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which states that “States Parties shall respect the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents or, where applicable, the members of the extended family or community as provided for by local custom, legal guardians or other persons legally responsible for the child, to provide, in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child, appropriate direction and guidance in the exercise by the child of the rights recognized in the present Convention.” We cannot separate culture and beliefs in the education of children especially when it comes to morality.

The Committee adopted a committee report and a set of minutes and the meeting was adjourned.


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