The 2014 World Health Statistics indicated that the average global birth rate among 15 to 19 year olds is 49 per 1000 girls. Country rates range from 1 to 299 births per 1000 girls, with the highest rates in sub-Saharan Africa. In total, about 16 million girls aged 15 to 19 and some 1 million girls under 15 give birth every year—most in low- and middle-income countries.South Africa has one of the highest teenage birth rates in the world and it is a growing phenomenon shows no signs of decreasing as it is in both the UK and the USA. Approximately 30% of teenage girls in South Africa report ‘ever having been pregnant’.
In this article I don’t want to go into why there are so many pregnancies among young women in South Africa, but rather to consider some of the consequences of these pregnancies. – health, services, boys and possible marriage of half-siblings.
- Pregnancy and childbirth complications are the second cause of death among 15 to 19 year olds globally. This includes 3 million unsafe abortions among girls aged 15 to 19 take place each year, contributing to maternal deaths and to lasting health problems. The number of abortions being performed at hospitals and clinics across South Africa is between 2 500 and 3 000 every month.
- Early childbearing increases the risks for both mothers and their babies. In low- and middle-income countries, babies born to mothers under 20 years of age face a 50% higher risk of being still born or dying in the first few weeks versus those born to mothers aged 20-29. The younger the mother, the greater the risk to the baby. Babies born to adolescent mothers are also more likely to have low birth weight, with the risk of long-term effects.
- A very serious problem in South Africa is drinking, smoking and drugs by teenagers, including girls who are pregnant. This results in foetal alcohol syndrome which has been shown to cause alcoholism, schizophrenia and behaviour problems in these children.
Services and support
- In the UK there are a number of services who care for and assist teenagers who fall pregnant. They receive food vouchers, Council homes which are fully equipped and free hospital services.
- In South Africa, with effect from 1 April 2015,each teenage mother receives a monthly grant of R330 (£16 or $24 per month)! There is no other assistance such as food vouchers or health care.
This is an incredible difference between these 2 countries and is just 1 example of the poor support these ‘child’ mothers receive in South Africa. Month by month I see dozens of them at the local government hospital where I collect my medication. Some of them are very young and their faces show that they are carrying a heavy burden.
Boys and men
I am always upset that it is the girls who are blamed for the pregnancies and are banned from returning to school whereas the boys continue with their lives as if nothing has changed. Our President, Jacob Zuma seemed to support this approach to blaming the girls when he said this when addressing the National House of Traditional Leaders on March 10 2015. ”
“Teenage mothers should be separated from their babies until they finished their schooling. They must be … forced to go to school far away,” he was quoted as saying by the South African Press Association. “They must be educated by government until they are empowered. Take them to Robben Island … make them sit there and study until they are qualified to come back and work to look after their kids.”
He did not give any indication as to who would care for the babies in the meantime. Their fathers? Ha Ha. He has over 20 children and I don’t think that he has ever cared for any them while their mothers were empowered.
This is one issue that I have not seen discussed anywhere. It is known that in certain communities eg schools, and probably in many other situations, the same young man may impregnate more than one young girl. If this is a wide spread problem the consequences could be dire as many of the babies would be half-brothers and sisters. Should these children meet and decide to marry there are many serious possible consequences.
Anne Matthews, Case Western Reserve University, USA wrote this in one of her articles:
Couples who are related by blood have a higher chance of having children with genetic diseases or birth defects. It is estimated that couples who are siblings (1st degree relatives) have about a 7-12% risk above the population risk, which is estimated to be about 3-4% of newborns.
I don’t have the answers to these situations but it is time that those who could have, started doing something about it in earnest.