Pretoria, South Africa, August 24, 2021: The number of children of teenage mothers in South Africa’s most populous province, Gauteng, has increased by 60% since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic of mothers and babies.
New figures from Gauteng’s Ministry of Health show that between April 2020 and March 2021, more than 23,000 girls under 18 were born – 934 of them under 14 – compared to 14,577 girls under 19 who had babies in the same period of a year earlier.
Home to more than 15 million people, a quarter of the population of South Africa, Gauteng includes the country’s largest city, Johannesburg, and its administrative capital, Pretoria.
Early pregnancy and motherhood in South Africa force many girls to drop out of school, trapping many in a cycle of poverty that depends on public support, and leaving many to be stigmatized by society for being teenage mothers or premature Forced marriage.
It also carries a greater risk of maternal complications, leading to low baby survival rates, and forcing many girls to prematurely assume adult roles for which they are neither emotionally nor physically prepared. This has devastating social and economic costs.
Marumo Sekgobela, Health and Nutrition Theme Manager for Save the Children South Africa, said:
“To see a child transform into a mother is heartbreaking. Children have to be children and not give birth to them. It is especially devastating to learn that many of the girls born last year were barely teenagers.
“The global pandemic threatens a time of irreversible setbacks and lost progress for girls. If we don’t act quickly and decisively, the impact on girls’ futures – and all of our futures – will be devastating.
“There has never been a more important time to allow teenagers to take control of their sexual health and stay safe. Save the Children urges the government of South Africa and Gauteng Province to ensure that youth regardless of gender have access to full sexual opportunities and reproductive health information and services. We also call on families, communities, religious, and traditional leaders to support teenagers’ rights to reproductive health. It is time to break down the barriers to accessing services. “
Unwanted pregnancies in adolescents require holistic approaches that empower girls, help them make choices about their lives, including sexual and reproductive health, support men and boys in their lives, and give them real opportunities to prevent motherhood as their only fate.
A major contributing factor to the risks to the sexual and reproductive health of adolescents in South Africa is the lack of access to comprehensive sex education (CSE) and affordable and adequate health services.
In South Africa, Save the Children runs an integrated and holistic program that aims to help children, adolescents and young people stay in school, stay healthy and reach their full potential.