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Recent policy around teenage pregnancy within the South African basic education sector

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Published Date: March 22, 2022

Teenage pregnancy remains a fundamental crisis amongst the youth in South Africa, particularly amongst high school pupils. Over the years, there has been an increasing number of calls for greater measures to be implemented by various stakeholders in an effort to prevent this ongoing crisis within our education system.  Whether it be in the form of, inter alia, improved education and information around sexual behaviour amongst the youth, the legal consequences attached to those who engage in sexual intercourse with minors, the reproductive rights of teenagers within the South African context, as well as the responsibility of educators in ensuring that the rights of teenagers within the basic schooling sector are protected, the calls are many.

The Department of Basic Education recently published a policy on the prevention and management of learner pregnancy in schools. Central to its goal are the protection and promotion of the various rights as enjoyed by minors largely in terms of the Constitution and various other enabling legislations.

Some of the notable policy provisions include the following:

    1. That educators and other relevant bodies must create an enabling and supportive environment for pregnant learners, including that which ensures their safety, protects them from abuse and being subjected to forms of discrimination;
    2. The obligation of the Department of Education to uphold the rights of pregnant learners to education and to provide access to care, counselling and support;
    3. The obligation on educators to report teenage pregnancies which occur in schools, especially of learners below the age of 16 years, to the South African Police Services (SAPS); and
    4. The responsibility of schools to retain pregnant learners during their pregnancy, subject to certain conditions such as the submission of medical information to educators regarding the pregnancy and the expected delivery date. The educators have a responsibility to always protect the learner’s right to privacy when provided with the medical information.

Many would believe this to be a progressive policy as it seeks to provide uniform guidance to the basic education sector and it speaks to many rights which are afforded to minors within the South African context, including, their right to reproductive health care, dignity, non-discrimination, equal treatment, privacy, access to education and the overriding best interest of the child principle, which always seeks to put the interests of the child first.

The obligation on educators to create an enabling and supportive environment has the potential of improving the relationship of trust between the learner and the educator. For instance, If a strong relationship exists between the learner and the educator, it becomes a lot easier for the learner to communicate and notify the educator in time of the pregnancy, who thereafter can refer the minor timeously to facilities where they can receive proper and adequate treatment, counseling and advice to make  informed decisions on the many options they have in respect of the pregnancy should they decide to keep it versus the option to terminate the pregnancy.

Lastly, the obligation on educators to report school-related pregnancies to law enforcement officials encourages accountability on the part of the perpetrator where it is found that the minor was below the legal age of consent to any act of sexual behavior, and that as a result she was unduly influenced, and her vulnerability taken advantage of.

The guiding principles on which this policy is premised have been in existence within our law previously. The effect of the recent policy is that it seeks to provide uniform direction and guidance to the basic education sector when dealing with teenage pregnancies as well ensuring that the minor is protected at all times during this difficult period.

Lindo Gwala
Associate | Attorney

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