Girls start to have sex at 14, says study
A large majority of the girls also fell pregnant for the first time before the age of 16
THE preliminary results of an ongoing national study has found that teenage girls in Eastern Cape are engaging in sex at an earlier age than girls in other parts of the country, starting from as young as 14 years and one month.
Gauteng follows closely with girls starting to engage in sex at the average age of 14.2 years.
The new research, which was presented by Neloufar Khan from the Department of Social Development at a conference in Cape Town last week, found that most girls in South Africa had sex for the first time before the age of 16 - which is the legal age of consent - and except for Mpumalanga and Gauteng, a large majority of the girls also fell pregnant for the first time before the age of 16.
The preliminary results of the study by the National Population Unit also found that most girls start having sex to prove their love to their boyfriends.
The researchers looked at communities in five provinces (KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and Gauteng) where they interviewed 1417 young mothers between the ages of 13 and 18; 704 social service providers; and also had focus groups with boys and girls between the ages of 13 and 18, parents and other community members.
Mandy Daniels, PE Childline's early intervention programme manager, said based on cases in the city, she believed the study was conservative in its findings as she found children were engaging in sex and sexual experimentation from as early as six and seven.
Daniels said parents needed to be more approachable and needed to communicate with their children more, especially about sex.
Social worker Pamela Rubushe, who is based at Dora Nginza Hospital, said the situation had reached crisis level as an average of 50 teenagers, all aged between 13 to 18, gave birth at the hospital a month.
Rubushe said in many cases young girls were being exploited for sex by older men in exchange for money.
"They cannot differentiate between love and sexual exploitation. They think sex and love is the same thing and because they do not get love at home they look for it with older men," said Rubushe.
Child Welfare South Africa regional director Dalene Ritter said the increase in children who were neglected or sexually abused was directly linked to the increase of children who were engaging in sexual activities at an earlier age.
Ritter said various elements contributed to this, including a lack of love in the family home, an increase in levels of poverty.