Q&A: School learner pregnancies

The answers to these questions should worry a whole lot of us, and perhaps confirm a number of fears and perceptions too.  The numbers are alarming but, thankfully, not nearly as high as perceptions of sexual activity among learners.

Importantly, it confirms the link between learner pregnancy rates in schools located in poor areas and in schools that were poorly resourced. “Poverty has an impact at a personal level, at an interpersonal level, and at an institutional and structural level.” This may be so, and the impact of poverty should never be underestimated, but I don’t believe we should too quickly ascribe it to poverty or at least to poverty alone.  Clearly education and support (in various forms including structural, communal, familial and from the school itself) is vital.  However, surely one of the biggest hindrances is the associated social stigma, causing an unwillingness to approach these support systems in the first place.


FRIDAY, 18 MAY 2012


Mr G C R Haskin to ask Mr D A C Grant, Minister of Education:

(a)         How many learners in each age group have become pregnant since the start of the 2012 academic year or were pregnant at the start of the academic year, (b) how does this compare to each of the previous five academic years and (c) to what does his department attribute the increase/decrease in each case?


(a)         The annual survey data on learner pregnancy for the 2011/2012 year ending 31 March 2012 is not yet available.

(b)         See below for statistics on the past five years:

2010 – 2,108

2009 – 1,191

2008 – 1,970

2007 – 2,155

2006 – 2,352

(c)      Information obtained from the National Department of Basic Education (DBE) regarding trends in learner pregnancy provides the following:

Dr Saadhna Panday, Senior Researcher, DBE, has written a report based on research done across the country. The purpose of the study was to critically analyse and review the data on teenage pregnancy with a focus on learner pregnancy.

The DBE engaged in a desktop review of literature and looked at trends in fertility. A secondary analysis was conducted using the EMIS data for 2004-2008 and the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) 2003 Status of Youth Survey.

(HSRC Status of Youth Report 2003)

The study showed that there was a lack of statistics in South Africa, but that overall fertility had been declining for the past fifty years. Teenage fertility was declining at a slower pace.

The DBE stated that there was a perception in the country that there was an upsurge in teenage pregnancy. This may be because girls attended school more often while pregnant, were more visible in their communities and were tracked via the Child Support Grant (CSG).

The following additional information on the subject was obtained from a presentation delivered by Dr S Panday at a parliamentary hearing on teen pregnancy read with the Youth Risk Behaviour Survey 2008:

(Youth Risk Behaviour Survey 2008_final_report)

(i)             Learner pregnancy rates were higher in schools located in poor areas and in schools that were poorly resourced. There was no empirical evidence of a link between teen fertility and Child Support Grants.

(ii)          Data showed that an increase in education resulted in a decrease in pregnancies.

(iii)        The decline in teenage fertility was related to an increase in access to family planning services resulting in the use of contraception, the increase in access to education and a shift in attitudes towards pregnancy. There were high levels of knowledge of contraception, but incorrect and inconsistent use still persisted. Most young women became pregnant because they were not using contraception.

(iv)       The study further showed that teenage fertility resulted from a complex set of factors related to the social conditions under which teenagers grew up. The stigma of teenage pregnancy limited open communication with parents and access to healthcare.

(v)          An imbalance in gender relations can involve coerced or forced sex. Poverty resulted in trade-offs between health and economic security such as the reciprocity of sex in exchange for material goods.

(vi)        Dr Panday spoke to the matter of sending young mothers away to other schools. If this was done because of the stigma, then there should be a strategy to get young women back into the schooling system. She agreed that young mothers were often exposed to stigma and this was one of the reasons they did not return to schools.

(vii)       Dr Panday stated that the relationship with poverty was a very complex issue. Poverty had an impact at a personal level, at an interpersonal level, and at an institutional and structural level. Poverty could limit access to contraception because where access to healthcare services in a particular area is limited. A young woman’s poverty could also limit her ability to get information on what can be done to protect herself.

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