Teen pregnancy a growing concern

Imam Mogamad Shahied Salie

Imam Mogamad Shahied Salie wept when a 12-year-old girl approached him recently to bless her baby.

While it is well known that teenage pregnancy is a problem in Hangberg, Imam Salie could not help thinking of his own daughter, only a few years younger than this child requesting his blessing.

Earlier this year, the Western Cape Education Department announced that pupil pregnancy rates at schools across the province had dropped, from 2 880 in 2015 to 2 412 last year, with the department intending to cut that figure by another 5% this year.

In Imizamo Yethu and Hangberg, however, teenage pregnancy is commonplace, to the point that it has almost been accepted as a normal part of life.

Imam Salie believes many children do not understand the consequences of their actions, instead choosing to indulge in adult behaviour, consuming drugs and alcohol and feeling the need to “fit in” with their peers.

“Drugs have taken over Hout Bay, and that is a massive problem. Families are being broken down because of this. Kids are seeing how their parents behave, and they feel this is acceptable,” he said.

“Children in this community are also making their own pornography and distributing it among their friends. There is one girl, about 15 or 16 years old, who has made a porn film. I couldn’t bring myself to look at it, but I am told that she laughs throughout the movie.

“I think of the people who built Hangberg into what it is, the people who left a legacy for us… they would want to die again if they saw what was happening in our community.”

This week, the Sentinel was introduced to a mother and her 14-year-old daughter who is five months pregnant.

The shy, diminutive girl, a child in every way save for the small bump under her T-shirt, said she was “scared” about giving birth and what the future might hold for her child.

Incredibly, she is one of the luckier ones, given the support she is receiving from her mother and her 16-year-old boyfriend, now working for the family business.

Her mother has taken her out of school as she prepares for the birth of her baby.

“When I first heard that she was pregnant, I was in a state of shock,” her mother said.

“I was given counselling, because I could not accept this. But, as a practising Muslim, it is my duty to help my child. I cannot cut her off. Her boyfriend is here with us, and I am very strict with her. I have made her understand that I can no longer give her everything she wants because we now also have to think about her child.”

She said she was aware that teenage pregnancy was a problem in Hangberg, and that many young boys were simply looking for quick gratification without thinking of the consequences.

Zulpha October, project manager at non-profit Hout Bay Cares, said many young girls were lured by the promise of material possessions, such as expensive clothing or shoes, if they slept with teenage drug dealers.

“In Imizamo Yethu, a lot of those getting pregnant are drinking in shebeens. They also say they are not being educated about sex by their parents,” she said.

“In Hangberg, girls are lured by material riches like Nike takkies and money. They then get pregnant by drug dealers, but the drug dealers want nothing more to do with them. There are lots of households in Hangberg that are affected by teenage pregnancy. It is seen as normal now.”

What worried her was that some girls seemed to be proud that they were pregnant, despite their tender years.

“I think there is a belief among the teenage girls that they won’t get pregnant, but inevitably they do. In some situations, the girls do have boyfriends, but other times the boys are just looking for a quickie.

“A lot of the girls are dropping out of school. The other children will make fun of them, so they don’t want to go back after they’ve had their baby. It’s very tough. When I walk down the road and see all these teenage moms-to-be, I always ask myself, ‘Is this now the future?’”

Bronwyn Moore, director of NPO Community Cohesion, said teenage pregnancy was prevalent in both Hangberg and Imizamo Yethu, although it was less so in the latter.

“In IY there are a lot of education programmes about teenage pregnancy but maybe not enough social education programmes about making the right choices. That is something that is needed. I also think there is a lot more push-back from mothers about warning their children about the consequences of falling pregnant,” she said. “You also find in IY the girls are on the pill, and are dating older boys. In Hangberg, there is a huge tik problem, and the girls will just have sex without thinking about the consequences. There is also a traditional morality that comes into play in Hangberg, where girls asking for the pill might be shamed for asking for birth control.”

Imam Salie believes parents should be taking more responsibility for their children.

“Parents must realise that they are holding the steering wheel, and it is their responsibility to guide the child in their actions. Every one of us will be tested by God, but it is up to us to sincerely want to solve the problem,” he said.

“It is a parent’s job to train young people to contribute to the community in a positive way. We need to find ways in which we can encourage our children to do the right thing, instead of letting them out on the streets to do their own thing and give in to temptations.”

Juan Julius, principal of Hout Bay High School, said there had been several teenage pregnancies at the school over the years. “I am very honest about it. I think a lot of teenage pregnancy is happening because of how the children are growing up. Communication between parents and children has broken down, and drugs and alcohol are rife in the community,” he said.

NGOs such as James House and Lalela were often brought in to speak to the pupils about the dangers of underage sex.

Mr Julius said teachers often felt under extra pressure to deal with social problems when their job should be to educate pupils.

“We are not social workers, but we often feel that we are expected to perform miracles and deal with everything. Attitudes towards teenage pregnancy are too lenient. The kids go away and then come back to school and everything is expected to be normal.”

However, Mr Julius said he and the staff would continue to “do what we can” to help children who found themselves in difficult situations. “We won’t give up, but addressing these challenges also needs to be worked on in the home. There are no quick fixes.”