Early pregnancy is a social, health and economic issue affecting children in South Africa, Amnesty International South Africa said on Women’s Day.
There has been a significant increase in the number of adolescent and young girls falling pregnant – ultimately girls who are giving birth from as young as 10 years old. This is a major cause for concern.
In South Africa, between April 2017 and September 2021, the number of births to young and adolescent girls between 10 and 14 years of age increased by 48.7%. Between April 2020 and March 2021, 934 girls between 10 and 14 years old gave birth in Gauteng alone. Further, of the 1,764 babies born in South Africa on 1 January 2022, 65 were born to adolescent girls. The youngest was a 13-year-old from the Eastern Cape.
It is also important to note that these are the number of births, not the number of pregnancies – bearing in mind some pregnancies ended in abortions and miscarriages.
“These are staggering numbers. While this is a societal issue that needs to be tackled by the government and the people together, the state also has a responsibility to create an enabling environment for people to make autonomous and informed decisions,” Amnesty International South Africa Executive Director Shenilla Mohamed said.
Early pregnancy has a ripple effect in terms of the adverse impact that comes with it. Often these pregnancies result in these girls being forced to drop out of school or fall behind with their schoolwork. This also results in a cycle of poverty – them requiring public assistance, being stigmatised, and sometimes even being forced to marry early.
Other factors such as gender inequality, gender-based violence, substance abuse, poor access to contraceptives (as well as limited education about the options available), barriers to accessing termination of pregnancy, as well as many healthcare system challenges, all negatively influence this problem further.
A reality check can be seen in the stats. In 2020, 2,665 girls aged 10-14 and 91,580 between 15-19 years of age gave birth, according to Statistics SA. In a written response to questions in Parliament, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga in June this year said 90,037 girls aged 10-19 gave birth between April 2021 and March 2022.
Gender-based violence is also a contributing factor to early pregnancies, as up to one in three children under the age of 18 experienced sexual abuse.
According to South African law, children below the age of 12 do not have the capacity to consent to sexual activity. Sexual intercourse with a child below the age of 12 is always considered rape. Even if the child says “yes”, they are unable to give consent at that age. Consensual sexual intercourse may occur between two children who are at least 12 years old and under the age of 16. 16- to 17-year-olds may only have consensual sex with persons no more than two years younger than them. This means that even though a child between the ages of 12 and 15 can consent, if there is more than a two year age difference, and one is 16 or over, the latter will be guilty of statutory rape.
“Gender-based violence must be tackled as one of the root causes of early pregnancy,” Shenilla Mohamed said.
“In an event where the pregnancy occurs as a result of rape and statutory rape, cases must be reported to the South African Police Service (SAPS). The criminal justice system, including the SAPS and the National Prosecuting Authority, must respond in a timeous, efficient and effective manner to these cases.”
Amnesty International South Africa has launched an awareness campaign about the crisis of early pregnancy in the country and is calling President Cyril Ramaphosa and his government to play its part in combating this.
“The state needs to ensure the fulfilment of all rights (housing, education, non-discrimination) that implicate the broader social determinants of health, including early pregnancy,” Shenilla Mohamed continued.
Early pregnancy is a crisis as it ultimately prevents adolescent and young girls from progressing in the most important years of their lives. To put a stop to this, Amnesty International South Africa is urging everyone living in the country to take a stand and add their voice by writing to President Ramaphosa calling on him to ensure the government works together to address the high levels of early pregnancy in South Africa.
“We hope that the message will reach the people who have the power to influence our laws and policies to protect adolescent and young girls,” Shenilla Mohamed said.
“President Ramaphosa, it is time that you and your government take this issue of early pregnancy seriously and protect girls’ rights to health, information, education, equality and to live freely from GBV and discrimination.”
Amnesty International South Africa in partnership with Joe Public United and True Love are shining a light on the crisis that is early pregnancy this Women’s Month.
In partnership with True Love and their August edition, aptly referred to as #TheRealMaternityIssue, the campaign aims to ensure the message reaches everyone living in South Africa.
We encourage everyone living in South Africa to help us play a pivotal role in raising awareness about the issue and to take action on Amnesty International South Africa’s website – calling on the government to ensure that there is real change so our young girls are protected and capacitated with information to make informed decisions about their bodies.
On 9 August 1956, approximately 20,000 women marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest against apartheid “pass laws” which restricted the movement of black people under the Population Registration Act. The Act required them to carry passports, known as a pass, to move within the country, and served to entrench and maintain racial segregation.
For more information or to request an interview, please contact:
Genevieve Quintal, Media and Communications Officer, Amnesty International South Africa: +27 (0)64 890 9224; firstname.lastname@example.org
Amnesty International South Africa office, 97 Oxford Road, Saxonwold, Johannesburg, 2196