African / Blacks / Boys / Children / Gender / Girls / Government / Health / Masculinity / Men / Sexuality / Violence / Women

Why Over 36 000 School-Girls Fell Pregnant in 2010 and What To Do About It

October 17 2013 - Pregnant school girl

Last year I wrote on the South African National Department of Basic Education’s Report on the ‘2009-2010 Annual Surveys for Ordinary Schools’ in the post “Wouldn’t it Make Girls’ Lives Happier and Richer if We Gave Boys an Education That Makes Them More Caring About Girls’ Aspirations”.

The 2010-2011 Schools Report was released at the end of September 2013.

In the above mentioned post, I said that two numbers that generated quite a bit of media were 109 and 45 276, the first being the number of Grade 3 learners who fell pregnant in 2009. The former number was an increase from the 17 learners who had reportedly fell pregnant in 2008. The second is the total number of learners who fell pregnant in 2009, which was down from 49 599 in 2008.

The total number of learners in ordinary schools who fell pregnant in the 2010 is 36 702. Twenty-six Grade 3 learners fell pregnant in 2010.

The Schools Report also states that

KwaZulu-Natal (14 340) had the highest number of learners who were pregnant, followed by the Eastern Cape (6 516). The majority of learners, who were pregnant in 2010, were in grades 10 and 11. However, significantly high numbers of grades 7, 8 and 9 learners were also pregnant.”

Although population based ratios are necessary to give a better picture, these two provinces appear to need greater attention around sexual and reproductive health education.

There are some positive indications one can observe in these data (see Table). The number and percentage of schools with multi-grade classes is coming down. The number of schools with Grade R (reception year) as well as Grade 1 learners who attended Grade R is increasing. The percentage of schools that do not charge school fees is high. And, perhaps it brings a cheer to some gender and sexuality activists and scholars that the reported numbers of pregnancies are coming down – but I doubt it.

Number of ordinary schools 25 870 25 747
Number and percentage of schools with multi-grade classes 6 694 (26%) 5 339 (20.7%)
Average class size   29.8
Number of schools with Grade R 15 838 18 493 (88.4%)
Percentage of schools that do not charge school fees   20 383 (83.9%)
National average income from school fees R15 003 121 890 21 656 396 482
Number of single medium language schools 10 657 10 771
Number of parallel medium language schools 13 000 13 214
Number of learners in ordinary schools 12 195 509 12 270 622
Number of Grade 1 learners who attended Grade R 698 880 769 993
Number of learners in ordinary schools attending Grade 1 for the first time 954 358 1 024 924
Number of learners undertaking Mathematics in the FET phase 1 081 717 1 108 107
Number of learners undertaking Physical Science in the FET phase 768 818 781 416
Number of learners undertaking Accounting in the FET phase 661 662 674 403
Number of learners in ordinary schools whose parent/s are deceased (either a single parent or both parents deceased) 2 082 224 2 000 675
Number of learners in ordinary schools who passed away in the previous year 11 113 8 618
Number of learners in ordinary schools who fell pregnant in the previous year 45 276 36 702
Number of learners in ordinary schools who receive social grants 3 110 688 3 165 333

However, there is really depressing news. To have over 36 000 school girls falling pregnant is shameful for society.  

While the downward trend is positive, for goodness sake most of these kids will be underage and not ready for parenthood. The Grade 3s and 4s kids will be about 9 and 10, since the majority of learners entering Grade 1 for the first time are between 6 or 7 years of age. It is no exaggeration that most of these kids might not recover from the shock and burden of premature parenting.

As I said last year, what these numbers suggest is that despite the rhetoric about quality education, gender equality, and women’s empowerment, the leaders of South Africa continue to fail girl-children.

The failure evident in the number of school-going girls falling pregnant goes much further than a problem of basic school education.

There is, as said, the fact that a huge urgent effort is demanded around sexual and reproductive health. The health department, whose minister has proven to be very capable, must if needs be shove the education department out of the way and bring pregnancies among school-girls to zero. The best programme would be if the heads and functionaries in both departments without delay get their heads and plans together to stop the bleeding of our young talent.

It should be plain that there are not many 9-year old South African girls who are falling pregnant from immaculate conception. No Grade 3 girl, or for that matter any other human female, gets pregnant by herself. There is always sperm involved. And that means a boy and often enough an adult male is implicated.

Here is the first take-home point. We have to extend our sexual and reproductive health education and campaigns to males. As a society it is absolutely imperative to spread to all the corners of the land that an educated girl who delays pregnancy and goes to university to realise her potential is good not only for herself, but also for families, communities, and the whole of society. We must believe in this, all of us. We must make it into our cultural mantra.

Coupled with the need for massive intervention regarding sexual and reproductive health is the fact that a significant number of the girls who fall pregnant may be victims of sexual violence. 

It is crime for 9-year olds, as an example, to have sexual intercourse. Children cannot give sexual consent. They don’t know much about sexuality. There can only be one explanation why a girl of 9 years of age falls pregnant.


Here is the second take-home point: Government, business and other leaders must put much more money and resources not increasing the police and private security state but rather in changing violent masculinities. Is it not clear that rape is about relational violence? We therefore need more upstream interventions to change boys and men’s relationships with themselves, girls, women, and other men. One of these interventions ought to be massive education and social infrastructure aimed at making boys and men invested in healthy, happy and generative masculinities. Boys and men who subscribe to such positive masculinities believe in girls’ and women’s rights to their sexualities, bodies, native talents, and aspirations. And they are less likely to be sexually violent. 

In the final analysis, I think our progress will always be checked if we don’t take of both girls and boys. I want to repeat myself then, more or less.

By educating an African girl-child for a feminist, educated, confident, happier and healthier life, without empowering an African boy-child with progressive education to make them egalitarian, democratic, non-violent and healthier life does not just mean we will be faced with the problem of pregnant children for the foreseeable future. It retards the general quality of life in our society. It would make black girls’ present and future lives better if we also gave black boys the kind of education that makes them more caring about girls’ needs and aspirations.”

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