Elimination of child pregnancies & protection of children against sexual exploitation: Department briefings (with Minister & Deputy Ministers present)

Multi-Party Women’s Caucus

30 November 2023
Chairperson: Ms M Hlengwa (IFP)
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Meeting Summary


In a virtual meeting, the Multiparty Women’s Caucus received briefings from the departments of Social Development, Basic Education and Health on the elimination of child pregnancies and the protection of children against sexual exploitation. The departments all agreed that the issues must be dealt with through a multi-sectoral approach, which they continued to work through.

Basic Education said that the response to teenage pregnancy should not only be limited to government but should extend to civil society, non-governmental, the academic fraternity, traditional and religious leadership and most importantly, adolescents and young people themselves.

Social Development’s presentation highlighted that pregnancy and childbirth during adolescence remain a widespread concern with pervasive negative health, social and economic outcomes for young mothers and their children.

As part of the service delivery platform interventions, Health established youth zones across the country to respond to the stigma associated with young people accessing services in clinics. The Department also has a communication platform called B-Wise to encourage young people to discuss their health needs, including sexual and reproductive health needs, from a reliable source.

Members of the Caucus raised questions on several issues, including the role of community leaders, interfaith organisations, the police and social workers in working with the education sector to fight the scourge. The Caucus requested that specific information be shared with it and expressed the wish to be involved in some of the programmes in the future, like the dialogues with the various stakeholders.

Meeting report

The Chairperson of the Caucus was not at the meeting and had tendered an apology. Ms M Hlengwa (IFP), the Deputy Chairperson of the Caucus, acted as Chairperson on the day.

Briefing by the Department of Basic Education (DBE): Overview of Programmes that prevent and manage Learner Pregnancy in Schools
The presentation was led by Ms Busiswa Nokama, Deputy Director: Comprehensive Sexuality Education, DBE.

The presentation acknowledged the intersectoral factors that impact education outcomes. Ms Nokama said that it is essential to consider the prevention and management of learner pregnancy within a larger context. Therefore, when evaluating the effectiveness of the policy on the Prevention and Management of Learner Pregnancy, it is necessary to also take into account other related policies. The policy goals aim to reduce the incidence of learner pregnancy through the provision of quality Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) and access to adolescent and youth-friendly Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) services. They are also designed to promote the Constitutional Rights of girls to education by ensuring they are not excluded from school as a result of pregnancy and birth, and to provide a supportive environment for the continuation of learning.

The response should not only be limited to government but should extend to civil society, NGOs, the academic fraternity, traditional and religious leadership and most importantly, adolescents and young people themselves. Multiple methods need to be used to educate, inform and empower communities on issues that relate to teenage pregnancy to change traditional, religious and modern norms that violate their right. Until society can effectively reduce sexual violence, coercion and gendered power imbalances, this is a battle that will always be fought.

The monitoring and evaluation strategies employed to determine the effectiveness of this policy will depend on a multi-sectoral collaboration to interpret its progress and outcomes.

See attached for full presentation

The Acting Chairperson asked if and how often the Department met with traditional leaders as stakeholders on the issues as they happen in their communities.

Ms J Mananiso (ANC) noted and commended the multi-sectoral approach adopted by the Department but enquired about the absence of the South African Police Services (SAPS) as an important stakeholder in the programmes. As a recommendation, the teaching assistant must be roped in and trained on the programme, and they would go on to make it a part of everyday teaching in schools, including as peer educators at appropriate levels. She further wished to know how the Department conducted monitoring and evaluation in schools to gauge the impact. She also asked about the use of indigenous languages in the dissemination of programmes.

Ms W Newhoudt-Druchen (ANC) enquired about an incident she had recently read of in the media. A school pupil had been turned away and banned from writing an exam because she was pregnant. The pupil was asked to go home and fetch a parent who, on arrival, was told they had come too late. She was disappointed because the teachers were supposed to know that that pupil had every right to write her exams, especially because it was a Matric exam. How did this happen? And how are pupils in this situation supported? She also wished to know if this kind of training is given to schools with children with special needs. She noted that there had been a mention of children in the system who are married. What age are these pupils? Were they legally married, or were they forced marriages?

Ms D Peters (ANC) asked if the Department believed that the Life Orientation module/subject was bearing any fruit in terms of teaching social skills and matters related to the topic, because the results were not evident. Also, it would seem that the role of the parent and the home were taking a backseat. A lot of incidents of child pregnancies do not take place on the school grounds. But for homes and the communities, she wished to emphasise the need for the involvement and engagement of community leaders as well as faith-based organisations. The question of the involvement of the SAPS, where a policeman/woman could be attached to each school, allows the learners to report issues to them in confidence (like the former Adopt-A-School programme by the SAPS). Is it possible for the Department to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Social Development (DSD), to ensure that social workers are also attached to schools, bringing their much-needed professional skills for the benefit of school pupils?

Ms T Makata (ANC) commended the strategy presented for being student-centric in its approach. She asked if there had been a feasibility study on the benefit of mandatory clinic visits to schools, as well as the visits by social workers. She also emphasised the need for the police to be engaged and involved. The family structure in South Africa is a dynamic one, and this must be considered when addressing issues of this nature.

Ms Z Majozi (IFP) supported the need for involvement of community leaders and social workers. Was there any legislation or policy that regulates issues related to the issues discussed on the day? If not, could this be considered? The oversight dialogues must also involve parents and community leaders and must be done continuously.

Ms N Adoons (ANC) asked the Department about the reported number of pupils who were supposed to write their matric exams, with some reportedly pregnant and the parents refusing them the right to do so. The observation that these things happen in the home and community environments, and this was a societal matter.

Ms M Ntuli (ANC) commented that the issue not being discussed is that of older people who lure young girls using money, pointing to the fact that poverty plays a huge role in the matter. The old age traditional practices like ‘ukuhlolwa kwezintombi’ (virginity testing) still served great purposes in many communities in the country to reduce what she termed a scourge, as it destroys the lives of young girls at an early stage, robbing the country of a skilled population in the future. The root causes of poverty must be dealt with in society.

Ms Simone Geyer, Deputy Director-General: Planning and Delivery Oversight Unit, DBE, responded that the Department has come a long way in putting in place protocols and programmes to deal with the challenges. She agreed that several stakeholders need to come on board, especially in the schooling community, to support learners. When the world went through the COVID pandemic, several cracks in the system emerged, including drop-outs at schools because learner pregnancies increased during that time.

Mr Muzi Ndlovu, Director: Health Promotion, DBE, reported that the policy was presented to the South African National Aids Council, in the presence of all the Premiers of provinces, including the various stakeholders like the children’s sector, civil society, traditional leaders and the private sector. In the provincial consultations as part of policy dissemination, these stakeholders were invited and engaged. In the School Safety Programme, there is the Adopt-a-Cop programme which has been doing well. However, due to a lack of resources at times, it is not used to maximum benefit by some schools. When a pregnancy occurs, it is reported to the Social Workers who work with schools at a district level. In some schools, teacher support agents are placed to assist social workers. But not all schools have this resource due to a lack of resources. The suggestion to capacitate teacher assistants was welcome and would be looked into. The Department signed agreements (MOUs) with the Departments of Health and Social Development in 2019, in the Integrated School Health Programme (ISHP). The current Standard Operating Procedures were developed together by the departments. There were health nurses linked to schools. The challenge here was that, because of the lack of resources, one nurse would be responsible for up to 2000 learners, thus unable to visit the same schools regularly. Requests have been made and plans were afoot to have more nurses and social workers linked to the ISHP.

As part of engaging with communities, the Minister and Deputy Minister were leading a programme called the Early and Unintended Pregnancy Dialogues in provinces, with four having been conducted so far in four provinces. The suggestion for Parliament to hold similar dialogues was also supported, and the Department would welcome the opportunity to work with Members to make such a project a success.

Ms Nokama addressed the issue raised by a Member, of the pupil who was refused a chance to write a matric exam because of pregnancy. She said that the Department was investigating the incident which took place in Mpumalanga. The Department had disseminated the policy to all Quintile 1-3 schools, and this should not have happened. The Schools Base Support System includes SAPS and DOH is being strengthened to ensure that learners receive the support when they seek it. The DBE was engaging with StatsSA on the recent statistics they released on learner pregnancies so that there is a better understanding of the data.

Mr Ndlovu confirmed that the policy was disseminated to all schools, including those that cater for children with special needs, including its translation into braille. He welcomed the proposals by Members for policies of this nature to be translated into all official languages for ease of access and use.

Briefing by the Department of Social Development: Elimination of Teenage and Child Pregnancies
The presentation highlighted that pregnancy and childbirth during adolescence remain a widespread concern with pervasive negative health, social and economic outcomes for young mothers and their children. The Department of Social Development (DSD), together with the Departments of Health and Basic Education, implements the Integrated School Health Programme. This programme advocates for an integrated multi-sectoral approach to addressing teenage pregnancy. One of the milestones of the programme was ensuring that one of the teenagers who dropped out of school returned to school. The Department of Health committed to bringing mobile clinics to school to ensure access to reproductive health and contraceptives.

Amongst further interventions, the DSD is currently conducting a Diagnostic Evaluation to understand government’s response to teenage pregnancy. The purpose of the study is to assess the relevance and responsiveness of government interventions (both programmes and services) in addressing the direct determinants of teenage pregnancies, as well as the budgeting and costing elements. In addition, the study will provide empirical evidence on the different interventions, legislation, policies and guidelines to manage teenage pregnancy. The evaluation will be conducted in five provinces, namely: Gauteng, Northern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Western Cape and Limpopo. The Steering Committee for the study will include officials from the Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disability (DWYPD), Department of Health, Department of Basic Education, Development Partners (UNICEF and UNFPA) and stakeholders from Civil Society Organisations.

Ms Lindiwe Zulu, Minister of Social Development, began her brief remarks by thanking the Caucus for taking up the issues that affect especially young women in the country. She noted that the meeting takes place during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. She requested the continued support and assistance of Members with issues of learner and teenage pregnancies.

See attached for full presentation

Ms Mananiso commended the ambassador programme in schools that the Department runs. She noted that the DSD planned on having mobile clinics. Which areas have been identified for the piloting of the programme? She was impressed by the Diagnostic Evaluation process, and requested that information be shared with the Caucus so it could follow up on matters in the future.

Mr Linton Mchunu, Acting Director-General, Department of Social Development, responded that the Department had started working with organisations like the UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) to teach young people about their sexual health and rights. They have been working with youth-led non-profit organisations across the country, who have become ambassadors in the work with their peers. The DSD works closely with the DOH, and the latter would respond better to the questions around mobile clinics.

He noted the request for the Caucus to be involved in some of the programmes and the sharing of information, which would be gladly done. Other countries have made requests for information to be shared, with the view of replicating the programmes, especially in the African continent. There remained a lot of work to be done, and the Department would continue to work with various stakeholders and be community-centric in approach to deal with the many challenges around these issues.

Briefing by the Department of Health: Interventions for ending Child and Teenage Pregnancies
The current status of the Child Termination of Pregnancy was presented. This was followed by policy and guidelines to reduce child and teenage pregnancies. As part of the service delivery platform interventions, the Department established youth zones across the country to respond to the stigma associated with young people accessing services in clinics. Currently, 2 000 facilities have functional youth zones. These are prepared to be adolescent and youth-friendly, to respond to the specific needs of young people. This assists in ensuring that young people are fast-tracked when visiting the facilities.

The Department also has a communication platform called B-Wise to encourage young people to discuss their health needs, including sexual and reproductive health needs from a reliable source.

See attached for full presentation

Ms Mananiso commented that the perception of the use of contraceptives needed to be transformed, as young people have complained of the judgemental treatment they receive from nurses in the public sector, thus seeing some opting to source these from private pharmacies. She enquired if the Department had a report on the illegal termination of pregnancies. Did the Department also have a socio-economic profile breakdown of the young girls who have used public facilities to terminate pregnancies?

Ms A Gela (ANC) said that the research showed that comprehensive sex education can drastically reduce teenage pregnancies. She wished to know how the Department planned to improve its communication strategies in this regard to ensure the impact of programmes on young people.

Ms Peters asked the Department how it was resourced about health promotion. The latter should target both boys and girls when teaching sexual responsibilities. There has been too much focus on the girl-child, and this needs to change. She also wished to find out if the Department still had a relationship with LoveLife, which has always been a champion of peer education.

Dr Manala Makua, Chief Director: Women's, Maternal and Reproductive Health, Department of Health (DoH), responded to the issues raised. She informed the meeting that she was attending the meeting alone because her team was in KwaZulu-Natal, where the Digital Self-Care Service was. Instead of young people going to clinics and pharmacies, they can now use the ATM-like service that will disperse oral and emergency contraceptives. The DOH continues to work with LoveLife, and they are being supported to ensure their peer educators are qualified. The Department had noted the comments on having young nurses taking up these programmes. The nursing profession was struggling to attract young people into the profession – something that would need to be attended to.

Consideration and Adoption of Committee Minutes
The meeting considered and adopted minutes of previous meetings, dated 31 August and 21 September 2023.

The meeting was adjourned.


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