30 October 2014
In my school when a girl falls pregnant, her parents are called in and the girl is kicked out of classes. She is only allowed to return after she gives birth.
This rule only applies to girls. Boys who make girls pregnant do not get the same treatment.
Our pregnant peers are allowed to come and sit in the school admin block where they must wait for their friends to give them notes from class, but they are not allowed contact with students in class or any contact with teachers.
We are campaigning in my school for pregnant girls to be allowed in class. We are doing this for a number of reasons.
First it is unfair for pregnant girls to be denied the right to be in class. This violates their constitutional right to education. The Constitutional Court has ruled that it is a violation of pregnant girls’ rights to equality, basic education, human dignity and privacy to prevent them attending classes. To force pregnant learners out of school is discrimination based on gender.
Second is that there are myths about pregnant girls that need to be dealt with. Pregnant girls deal with a lot of stigma. They are humiliated and made to feel embarrassed about being pregnant. For example, there is a false belief that pregnant girls make you sleepy, and this is why some of my peers think it is ok to exclude pregnant girls from class. So we have to shift mindsets.
What is most sad is that whereas some of our peers come back to school and repeat grades, others don’t ever come back to school. We see this happen. Only a third of pregnant learners remain in school during pregnancy and return following childbirth (see page 4). There could be many reasons for this but I know in my school pregnant girls are picked on and tormented, even by the teachers.
Teenage pregnancy affects us in township schools more than it does learners in former Model C schools. A report by the Western Cape government shows that deliveries are much more likely to be from teenagers in the Klipfontein, Khayelitsha, Eastern and Tygerberg sub-districts of Cape Town than the wealthier southern suburbs (see page 16). The effects are also more dire because our families cannot afford to feed more mouths and teenage pregnancy continues the cycle of poverty.
What we need in our schools is sex education. Our life-orientation teachers should be teaching us sex education and also how to support pregnant learners.
Learners should be allowed to stay in school as long as possible and teachers must not further isolate and stigmatize pregnant girls.
Xhaxha is an equaliser for Equal Education at Masibambane High School in Kraaifontein.