Advocacy

Helping youth and vulnerable children through the complicated systems of government grants, social services and birth certificates can be a long journey.  As noted in our heading "About Orphans" there are a lot of factors that make advocacy by organizations and individuals seeking to assist children a complicated but crucial task.

 

Teenage Pregnancy

 

 

One of the most difficult situations facing South Africa today is the rise in teenage pregnancies.  So many young girls are getting pregnant, that the country is struggling to find ways to prevent the problem. 

In an article in our local newspaper, The Lowvelder, the number of teenage pregnancies has risen from 25,000 per year to 60,000 school girl pregnancies per year. 

In a Department of Education / Department of Social Development study on why girls are getting pregnant, the following statistics were found:

  • 66% of girls said that they didn't use contraception
  • 28% said they wanted to have a baby
  • 8% said that they wanted to show they were fertile
  • 6% said they wanted to make people respect them
  • 5% said they wanted to make their boyfriends marry them
  • 3% said that they were forced to have sex against their will
  • 2% said they wanted to get the child support grant

These statistics tell us that girls are not just getting pregnant because they want the government grant, which is a common opinion held by many South Africans.

 

Teenage pregnancy is very complex and a difficult issue to address.  Young girls can be physically damaged by having children at too early an age.  Girls drop out of school to have babies and many never return, or return but can't pass because of the responsibilities of looking after their children after school. They have no time for studying or homework and have many chores to do in the house.  The young mothers who do return to school face the costs of having to pay for childcare or burdening their relatives who themselves are removed from the workforce.

 

And what about the fathers of these children?  They are usually abandoning their social and financial obligations by leaving the young mothers to raise their offspring alone.  This means that more children are growing up either not knowing their fathers, or without their emotional and physical support.

 

A true story

Grace (not her real name) had a child when she was 12 years old as a result of being raped by her uncle.  In order to keep the problem quiet, the family kept the baby and it was raised by the grandmother.  The girl went back to school, the "umhlaulo" or "payment for damages" was made and the whole matter swept under the carpet.  Six years later the girl got pregnant again by her much older boyfriend.  Her school expelled her and she stayed home for the year, unable to further her education.  The next year she went back to school, but the baby had been born prematurely and was sickly, so she spent many of her days taking her to a clinic and spending time in hospital pediatric wards.  She failed again and finally dropped out of school.  And so the cycle repeated itself.

 

And what happens to their babies?  Grandmothers step in to raise the child while the girl goes back to school.  The problems begin with children raising children and grandmothers raising unwanted grandchildren.  Not only do the costs of raising a child rise with age, but the lack of nurturing and abuse rise significantly.

 

Sugar Daddies

Older men who engage in transactional sex with young girls are called "sugar daddies".  These are often teachers at school or older men in the community who see young vulnerable girls as targets.  The teachers pay the girls with marks or money, or both.   Not only can there be an exchange of sex for marks, but a lot of pressure can be put on the girl child when she refuses to have sex with her teacher.  He can not only not give her extra marks is she agrees, but he can also fail her if she doesn't. 

 

Some women teachers also take part in transactional sex, but the incidence is less frequent. 

 

Case Study

In 2010, Malatse High School in Bushbuckridge had 290 girls who were attending the school.  70 of those girls were pregnant.  The total enrollment of the school was 562 learners. 

 

Solutions - Advocacy

What can we do to stop this problem of teenage pregnancy?  Is giving girls knowledge about ways to protect themselves the answer?  In South Africa, one of the highest matric (Grade 12) subject marks is Life Orientation, yet girls continue to have babies when they are in school. 

Is handing out condoms the solution?  Couples having regular sexual contact often stop using condoms when they become familiar with their partners.  They use the condoms to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS but once they "know" their partners and think that they are negative, they stop using the condoms.  They then fall pregnant. 

If education is not enough, then what is?  Mamkhulu.org embarked on a new adventure in 2012 to try to educate girls about how to negotiate the world of teenage sexual involvement. 

The longer sexual debut can be postponed, the less likely the girl is to get pregnant or become HIV positive.  In South Africa, the age of sexual debut is dropping year after year.  Girls are engaging in sexual activity earlier and earlier. 

Mamkhulu.org's "Girls Who Say No" programme started the discussion about how we can prevent teenage pregnancy and assist girls to complete their education. This programme takes place in a number of primary and high schools in the Daantjie area.  

In addition, in December 2014, we launched our first "Teen Mom's Camp' for 20 girls and their 20 babies.  (See Projects)

 

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Girl's Clubs

The goal of our "Girl's Clubs" is to start engaging girls in discussions around sexual activity as early as primary school.  The better the self esteem in a girl, the less likely she is to engage in transactional sex and get pregnant.  Good role models and a vision for their future will assist them in making good life choices.  Negotiating skills also help girls to say NO to men and boys who are after sexual relationships.  Being able to turn down gifts, extra marks, new hair styles, pretty nails, new clothes and food when you are hungry, is important to the health and safety of young, vulnerable girls.

Using drama to introduce the topics, and involving all the relevant stakeholders in the problems, we hope to advocate for a reduction in teenage pregnancies.  We have launched an initiative that forms clubs of girls seeking support and information that can protect them from violence and abuse by men.

Offers of support have already come from various sources and we hope to be well on our way soon to changing this disturbing and socially destabilizing trend.
 

Ntombifuthi Mnisi

Ntombifuthi Mnisi both joined the Mamkhulu.org staff after her return from a year in Canada as IVEP volunteers.  Futhi has a vision for empowering the youth in South Africa, especially girls, with the drive and hope for a brighter future.  In Canada she met other young people who make sure that their futures are secure by not getting pregnant while they are at school and studying towards a goal. 

Through Mamkhulu.org Girl Child Clubs, the girls are speaking at schools around our communities, making sure that girls gain self confidence about their futures and don't get pregnant before they are ready to handle the responsibility of bringing up a child. 

 

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