A few years ago, I overheard a conversation about teenage pregnancy between two mothers. One expressed her distress after finding out her 14-year-old daughter was pregnant.
The other responded: “I’m glad I don’t have that problem; my kids are boys”.
Her statement hit me like a lightning bolt. I asked myself, is pregnancy entirely the girl’s fault because she didn’t use any form of birth control? What is the boy’s responsibility in this? Couldn’t he have used a form of birth control?
As we wrap up Youth Month, it is astonishing that there are some among us who have not figured out that it takes two to fall pregnant. So why is it always the girl’s fault? After all, for every unwed teenage mother, there is an unwed teenage father. Bottomline: teen pregnancy – and its prevention – is the responsibility of both the boy and girl.
We certainly should raise our sons to be as accountable as our daughters. Unfortunately, every day hundreds of teenage girls get pregnant and give birth. Since girls can’t and don’t get pregnant by themselves, boys can prevent or greatly reduce the chances of a pregnancy by abstaining or by using a condom that will greatly reduce the risk of pregnancy, as well as the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases.
According to a Statistics South Africa report released last year, the Eastern Cape had recorded close to 30000 teenage pregnancies in the last five years.
A study by the Eastern Cape department of social development and special programmes showed teenage pregnancy is a problem, with both unplanned and unwanted pregnancies among teenage mothers being exceptionally high.
Early sexual debut increases incidences of unwanted pregnancies and the proportion of teenage mothers engaging in sex for pleasure was significant in the province. When looking at psycho-social factors, early marriages and experimenting with sex contributed to unwanted pregnancies.
One of the economic factors identified as making teenagers susceptible to unwanted pregnancies, is the perception that having multiple partnerships is helpful as a means to alleviate poverty.
This is a problem since in most instances women find themselves in a worse financial situation as they end up pregnant or with a baby, resulting in more needs, leading to a perpetual cycle of transactional sex. To make it worse, having multiple partners further exposes the teenage girls to STIs, especially HIV/Aids.
Indeed some teenagers get pregnant because they want to be loved, because they want to fit in, because they want to rebel, or because they want financial support.
Teenagers get pregnant because they could not say no, because they forgot the pill, because they believe contraception is wrong but they want to have sex anyway.
In most cases, young girls become pregnant through unconscious motives rather than conscious choice.
Other reasons teens most commonly report for not using contraception include that they didn’t expect to have sex, didn’t think pregnancy would occur, or didn’t know where to get birth control.
I agree with the conclusion of the study that in order to reduce the high number of unplanned and unwanted pregnancies in the Eastern Cape, there is a need to adopt a multi-stakeholder, institutional capacity building approach inclusive of schools, hospitals and clinics, traditional leaders, family members, as well as non-governmental organisations and the government.
The strategies used must cover multiple issues, such as the understanding and enforcement of relevant law, economic empowerment, improved accessibility to services and public awareness campaigns.
Therefore giving youngsters information about sex is a cheap and ineffective way of dealing with the problem. Life skills-based education enhances the practice of positive values, attitudes, behaviours and these could be extended to other people in the community.
These skills are needed for behavioural change. Educators’ positive attitudes enhance success in the behavioural changes and in the negative attitudes fostering failures and disasters.
The more challenging solution is to find ways of engendering hope, ambition, self-confidence and responsibility in those for whom the future seems bleak.
There are important realities to be faced and questions teens should ask themselves regarding sex and pregnancy: If I get pregnant, how will I take care, feed, clothe and keep my child in good health? If I do have a baby, how will I feel about myself; how will people view me; will I earn respect? If I fall pregnant and have a baby as a teenager, what are the odds the father will stay in the relationship and support the baby?
The teenage girl must learn to say “NO” and mean it. The boy should prove his manhood either by competitive sports or academic pursuits, not sex. If sexual contact is inevitable, he or they should use every possible safe and preventive measure.
Lastly, parents, teachers and communities can best address teen pregnancy – intended and unintended – by talking constantly with their children about getting an education, setting life goals, getting married and starting a family. After all, if a teenage girl gets pregnant, the boy is responsible, too.
Phumulo Masualle is premier of the Eastern Cape Province. Follow him on Twitter on EC_Premier