Teenage pregnancies generate a vicious cycle that must be broken

There is something we, as parents, need to talk about. It is an issue that involves hundreds of thousands of children who cannot and will not lift themselves out of poverty.

There is something we, as parents, need to talk about. It is an issue that involves hundreds of thousands of children who cannot and will not lift themselves out of poverty.

It is this shocking first line from a report I read last week: "More than 72000 teenagers missed school last year because they were pregnant."

In 2002 the figure stood at an equally staggering 66000 pupils.

You might say this is something that has been happening for as long as we can remember.

When I was at school in the 1980s, one or two girls would leave my class because of pregnancy every year. The phenomenon started while we were still in primary school - one child at my school even had a baby in the school toilet.

As we build a country where opportunities for black children are steadily increasing, it is terrible that so many children are falling pregnant.

Many of these children are poor and there is no doubt that what is happening to them is the beginning of yet another vicious cycle.

These kids will now have one more mouth to feed. They are themselves jobless and come from families that probably cannot afford to feed and clothe them properly.

The boys who impregnated them are no different.

There are many pressures associated with being a teenager. There is pressure to be cool, to have the latest cellphone and other gadgets. There is pressure to have a girlfriend and to be able to talk about having had sex.

Now we have strong indications from parents and our communities that young girls are falling pregnant simply to gain access to child maintenance grants.

The availability of these grants has destigmatised the spectre of young children falling pregnant. The going view is that at least the child is getting some money.

This is a terrible view of the world.

Education is the most important gift one can give to a child. Many of the most prominent people in our society today came from extremely poor families. But they managed to lift themselves out of poverty and become the people they are today because they stayed at school and worked hard.

This country will become nothing if we continue to condone the idea that children can have their schooling cut short by pregnancies. We come from a terrible history of discrimination against women.

But all that is finished. A woman's place is at the head of the boardroom table, not in the kitchen. That is what we need to be drumming into young people's minds.

But it is not a youth battle alone. The Education Department, the Health Department and non-governmental organisations need to be on board.

There is no doubt that the most important education should come from parents and communities where our children are nurtured.

This is the area where we can make a difference.

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