Pupil pregnancy: So rife we need a policy on it
Dept of Basic Education extends deadline for comments on school pregnancies draft policy
A classroom in a suburban KwaZulu-Natal school last month unexpectedly became a maternity ward when a teenage pupil went into labour.
“The school immediately called the emergency services, but the baby arrived before the medical services did,” said Tim Gordon, CEO of the Governing Body Foundation. “You had a young teacher in class, with 30 to 40 pupils, while a girl is giving birth.”As if this wasn’t enough, given the risks of teenage pregnancy, it wasn’t a straight-forward delivery.
“As it happened, there was a slight complication. The umbilical cord was wrapped around baby’s neck. The teacher did her very best, and her best turned out to be good enough. There was no damage to the mother or baby,” said Gordon.
He would not give the name of the school, but Gordon said the incident showcased the importance of how teachers and schools are handled as the Department of Basic Education receives the final round of comments of its Draft National Policy on the Prevention and Management of Learner Pregnancies in Schools.
The department this week extended the deadline for comments on the policy – which is available on the department’s website.Department spokesperson Troy Martens told Times Select the policy was important “because of the high rates of early and unplanned pregnancies we see, as well as the rates of pregnancies of pupils of school-going age, in particular”.
According to figures released by the department, in response to DA questions, 18,357 pupils fell pregnant at schools across the country in 2014. This declined to 15,504 in 2015 and to 8,732 in 2016 (although this figure did not include KZN or Limpopo, as those stats hadn’t been compiled at the time of the response).
The draft policy document itself acknowledges that school pregnancies are a major problem.
“The rate of pupil pregnancy in South Africa … has become a major social, systematic and fiscal challenge not only for the basic education sector, but crucially, for national development in general and for the basic education system in particular,” the document states.
“Unintended pregnancy among pupils is not new to the basic education system, but its scale and impact have reached a point where it requires a systemic policy and structured implementation planning,” it continues.Gordon welcomed the policy as a whole, particularly its focus on the rights and needs of the girls themselves. However, he cautioned that it did not pay enough attention to the schools and teachers who have to deal with the pregnant pupils – including in the case of last month’s classroom birth scenario.
“The policy is a step in the right direction. The stats from schools show the frightening extent … of the number of girls in our schools that have fallen pregnant, some of them as low as Grade 2. So, clearly there became a real need for policy, from legal and practical point of view to manage things better.
“But if we look at the policy itself, our slight misgiving is that it is overly focused on the rights of the pupil, without either taking into the account the prevention side of things or giving cognisance to the needs to the school, which run parallel, but could be very different to the needs of the pupil.
“There is insufficient guidance and protection for anyone who has contact with the girl. And, indirectly, this could be danger to the girl herself or the unborn or immediately-born child,” he said.
The Equal Education Law Centre – in a joint submission with Section27 – also expressed some misgivings.
“The draft policy is well-intentioned. However, in its current form it does not provide sufficient information for implementers to understand and to effectively implement the draft policy. In many respects, it does not serve the purpose of a policy, but instead appears to be a collection of broad policy statements in respect of the Department of Basic Education’s overall approach to school pregnancy,” the document reads.Other issues were raised – including around specific terminology and that “pupil fathers” weren’t catered for – in their 27-page submission.
Martens said the department welcomed these submissions and, in fact, the number and nature of the submissions was one of the reasons for the deadline being extended.
“The reaction to the policy has been overwhelming. Obviously there will be differing opinions on a topic that is sometimes seen as taboo to talk about with young people. However, we are taking on board all views as we work to finalise the policy,” she said.
In terms of what the department hoped it would achieve once the policy was finalised, she said: “We hope to see fewer unplanned pregnancies, we hope to retain girls in school longer and see them go on to further education and training opportunities and enter the economy. We also hope to equip pupils with the knowledge to be able to make healthy and informed choices about their lives and lifestyle.”