President Zuma’s dystopian vision of teen parenthood is incorrect, writes Scott Dunlop.
President Jacob Zuma has provoked a backlash after stating in an address to traditional leaders that teen moms should be separated from their babies until the moms have completed their schooling, reported News24.
He also suggested that these moms be “taken far away, taken to Robben Island or some other island.” His comments are a reiteration of similar statements made in 2009 and in the context of teen parents leaving school before graduating thus placing a burden on society. His thinking is that if children are forced to complete their schooling, the state won’t have to provide child support grants- grants which, he claims, children are deliberately falling pregnant for in order to claim.
Unfortunately, his views are fallacious.
Urban legends and the facts
Zuma has based his theory on what has been dismissed as an urban legend, the claim that teenaged girls in SA are getting pregnant in order to access social security grants. This claim was refuted in 2013 by research conducted by Michelle Solomon of Africa Check who also found that additional myths such as schoolgirls becoming pregnant during summer holidays because they had nothing to do or that they didn’t get pregnant in winter because of a winter schools programme are being disseminated by government, despite there being no proof for their veracity.
Solomon also reported that grants…are being spent on food, education and basic goods and services, contrary to Zuma’s claims that these are being spent on “hair salons”, and that children accessing the grants are more likely to complete their education. Approximately 25% of teen moms are accessing child support grants in Limpopo, Solomons noted.
Grants, advocacy and education
Exhaustive research done by NGOs, academics and other social services-related researchers has shown that teen parents need the support of their families and communities when it comes to raising their children. In addition, babies thrive most when closest to their mothers.
Local mom, author and activist Tracy Engelbrecht has long worked towards creating community projects that offer support for teen moms, including encouraging those moms to attend school.
The issue, she argues, is that childcare is not available for the babies of teen moms, and that schooling is expensive. She adds that some teen moms are “punished” for falling pregnant and are forced to leave school by their parents.
A report conducted by Partners in Sexual Health found that school girls sometimes found it difficult to visit family planning clinics as the opening times of the clinics clashed with school hours, and that health care workers often verbally abused them, calling them sluts, if they asked for pregnancy termination pills or contraceptives. The report also noted that it was essential for teen moms to return to school as soon as possible so as to avoid an interruption in their schooling.
Of course, it’s unlikely that anything will come to fruition from President Zuma’s statements- GroundUp recently followed up on another of Zuma’s promises made in 2011 that sanitary towels would be provided for poor women, and discovered that no evidence existed to support that this had happened.
President Zuma never completed his matric. The father of an estimated 20 children, he spent ten years in prison on Robben Island during the struggle years.
What's the answer?
The consensus, then, from those working more closely with teen moms and schools is that a more holistic approach is needed. Ideally:
• Family planning clinics should be more available to school-aged children in terms of opening hours.
• Teens should not be stigmatised for attending these clinics.
• Consistent education regarding sexual health should be conducted within schools and communities.
• Teen moms should be able to easily access child support grants.
• Teen moms should be able to access support groups within their communities and that these groups should help the teen moms continue their education.
• Babies of teen moms should not be removed from their mothers for extended periods, but, as far as available, should be close to their birth parents.
• Teen moms may need assistance in learning how to look after a child, and the family and community may need to be taught how to support teen moms rather than ostracising them.
What’s for certain, in my opinion, is that no sensible, socially responsible person would support President Zuma’s call for a dystopian society where teen moms are sent to “some island” in order to finish their schooling. As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child. Don't send the child's mother to a penal colony and remove from them the grant which would allow them to offer their babies a more balanced, dignified childhood with a present parent.
Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on Parent24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of Parent24.
What should be done to assist teen parents?