Xolile Bhengu, Lenyaro Sello and Anelisa Ngcakani
No maternity leave for schoolgirls.
This was the sentiment of most teacher, student and youth groups, parent bodies, non-governmental and religious organisations this week.
Maternity leave for pregnant schoolgirls was raised at a recent KwaZulu-Natal Education Department-hosted teenage pregnancy summit and has left the national ministry with a conundrum.
The summit invited all interested parties to have their say on how schools should deal with the high teenage pregnancy rate.
One member of the public proposed maternity leave. Another proposed that pregnant girls be given study material while they are at home.
Education minister Naledi Pandor's office has not been formally approached with the maternity leave proposal.
Acclaimed mathematician and former principal of Orlando High School, Thamsanqa Kambule, this week said the proposal was taking liberalism and children's rights too far.
Congress of South African Students president Mangaliso Khonza said: "We really need to intensify sex education campaigns in schools. We should advocate celibacy or at least make condoms available. That would be more responsible."
ANC Youth League spokesman Zizi Kodwa said: "A school is a place where children learn behavioural and social values. We cannot extend labour relations rules to pupils and encourage pregnancy. We should be finding out what causes the high rate of pregnancy and have more awareness programmes."
Young Communist League spokesman Castro Ngobese said the pregnancy rate was reflective of the department's inability to deal with the problem.
"It implies that our education system is weak and does not know how to deal with life skills."
National Professional Teachers Organisation of South Africa president Dave Balt said: "We would not support maternity leave as it is inappropriate and excludes the pupil from the school system. It is unfair."
But National Teachers Union vice president Allen Thompson said: "We will support maternity leave because teachers have to deal with pregnant teens at school. They are not nurses. There was a case where a girl gave birth in class and the teachers had to deliver the baby. Pupils were traumatised".
National Association of School Governing Bodies secretary Mahlomola Kekana said:
"Students are children not potential parents. Maternity leave violates children's rights and will send out the wrong message."