Why are so many Eastern Cape schoolgirls falling pregnant?
Number of gymslip mothers has risen by more than 9,000, says a department of basic education survey
The number of schoolgirls who fell pregnant in Eastern Cape increased by a massive 9,054, from 4,955 in 2016 to 14,009 in 2017.
However, over the same period nationally, the number of gymslip mothers dropped by 11,715, from 82,955 to 71,240.
These figures are contained in the department of basic education’s General Household Survey 2017: Focus on Schooling, which was released recently.
The Free State, Northern Cape and Western Cape recorded a small increase in the number of pregnant pupils, aged 14 and older.
Interestingly, Limpopo, Gauteng, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal had 7,179, 4,935, 4,824 and 4,461 fewer pregnant pupils respectively in 2017 compared with 2016.
North West also recorded a drop of 1,519 pregnancies during this period.
But the department’s annual school survey indicated that an estimated 15,504 pupils fell pregnant in 2017, which is hugely different from the 71,240 suggested by the GHS data.
According to the department’s survey, Gauteng recorded 5,246 pregnancies, the highest among all nine provinces.
Tom Moultrie, professor of demography at the University of Cape Town, cautioned against drawing any inferences from the 2017 GHS figures, saying that it was a very small sample.
“It [the GHS data] gives you a benchmark, but I would not draw inferences at pretty much any level from those data. I would rather go back to the census data or to the 2016 community survey which is a much bigger sample and can be far more reliable.”
He said that that over the past 15 to 20 years the country’s teenage pregnancy rate has been consistently falling.
“Every teenager who falls pregnant and whose schooling is disrupted is obviously a bad thing. It might limit her life’s choices.”
Moultrie said that one should look at what proportion of women who fall pregnant are unable to access termination facilities through the state healthcare system.
“Of those teenage mothers who give birth, how many are still in school and what are the compromising implications for their life chances in the future?
“According to the GHS report, pregnancy remained a major barrier for girls attending schools.
“The information on learner pregnancy assists the department with measuring the prevalence of learner pregnancy in the schooling system, as well as with developing interventions and strategies to address learner pregnancy as a barrier to education.”
The report said there were difficulties in capturing accurate information on the exact number of pregnant pupils.
“The GHS survey is often filled out by a guardian or a parent on behalf of learners who are in school during the data-collection visit, and the parent or guardian might not be aware of a learner being pregnant.”
According to the report, the annual school survey “was filled out by school principals and they were unlikely to be aware of all learners who fall pregnant at their school”.
The Eastern Cape education department had not responded to media enquiries by the time of publication .