By Canisius Mushibwe
Rachael (not her real name) is 12 years old but unlike the majority of her agemates in South Africa, she is already a mother to a four-month-old boy.
She was defiled by her teacher in school one day after class as she visited the staff room to seek extra help in her studies.
The teacher had promised to provide for her needs, being that Rachael hails from a family wallowing in poverty, so he took advantage of her.
She dropped out of school to take care of her son and now hates the day that changed the rest of her life.
“I would be in school working hard just to change the future of my family, but I am not. I just have to take care of my baby,” she said tearfully.
Unfortunately, Rachel is just one of the many girls in South Africa’s Gauteng province that have already worn the hat of motherhood at such a tender age.
Recent data has revealed that the number of girls between 10 and 14 years giving birth in Gauteng province has skyrocketed.
Some 934 babies were birthed by those between age 10 and 14, with another 19,000 delivered by girls within the ages of 15 and 19.
Gauteng health Minister Nomathemba Mokgethi said nearly 3,000 girls between the ages of 10 and 19 chose to cut short the lives of their developing fetuses. In total, the province recorded 23,000 pregnancies in the past year.
“These numbers are sad and incredibly troubling considering that these are young girls still have bright futures ahead of them. Teenage pregnancy remains a serious social and health problem in South Africa. It poses a health risk to both mother and child, and it also has social consequences such as continuing the cycle of poverty and early school dropout,” the minister said.
In South Africa, the legal age of consent is 16 years.
Despite clear evidence that some fathers are also underage, many South African teenage girls are preyed upon by ‘sugar daddies- a name given to older men that vow to spoil them with money and lavish gifts.
South Africa’s continued trajectory of teenage pregnancy is quite alarming as it affects girls’ performance in school and bars them from learning effectively.
Following the surge in teenage pregnancies, authorities have instituted an investigation into possible cases of statutory rape.
According to the Humanitarian aid Organisation World Vision, most of the cases of teenage pregnancy recorded in the Sub Saharan region are a result of COVID-19 since schools shut down leaving girls and boys idle.
Mokgethi said cases of statutory rape have been reported to the department of social development and the police for investigation.
Social Development spokesperson Refiloe Nt’sekhe said more interventions are required including educating girls on the consequences of teenage pregnancies and prevention.
Nt’sekhe added that they should also be taught their rights to enable them to turn down sexual advances from their male counterparts.
The report has indicated a great need by local educators, social development, and health departments to strengthen teenage pregnancy and sex education campaigns in schools and homes.
The South African government has thus called on parents, guardians and other stakeholders to work with them in curbing teenage pregnancy.