B’s Bonnet: We need to urgently equip our children with information
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By Bongani Bingwa
Johannesburg - Nearly 1000 babies were born to Gauteng children between the ages of 10 and 14 in the first 12 months of South Africa’s lockdown. 23 226 young girls fell pregnant between April 2020 and March 2021. Many of them were underage and far from completing their schooling.
These girls were impregnated considerably before the restrictions on population movements.
According to provincial Health MEC Dr Nomathemba Mogkethi, July saw the most births from girls between the ages of 15 and 19 (1 984 deliveries), while August had the highest number of deliveries (155) for girls between the ages of 10 and 14.
As DA Shadow Social Development MEC Refiloe Nt’sekhe acknowledged to me on Wednesday, this is not solely a government failure but a complex problem in need of a number of solutions.
Earlier that morning in promoting a radio discussion on the topic I tweeted how I think the problem, in part, could be addressed: “Parents stop abdicating your responsibility! Sex education begins at home! 23 000 teen pregnancies in the last year – mothers as young as 10! 10!! Still think teaching them about sex mustn’t be graphic? News flash they’re doing it anyway!”
Remember the strong resistance by many school governing bodies and teacher organisations against the Department of Basic Education’s Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) curriculum? Even now there is still some confusion as to whether it will be mandatory or optional to teach it.
Some find the material, which includes how to wear condoms, discusses oral sex and masturbation too graphic. But can the objectors afford to continue digging their heads in the sand? Their little bundles of joy are sexually active, whether they like it or not. Instead of their denial, perhaps kids could be better equipped with information to not only prevent consensual acts but even to speak up when violated by adults.
Twitter’s 280-character limitation notwithstanding, I didn’t anticipate the Twitter backlash from those who thought I was seeking to minimise rape (which of course is what the law says about any sexual act with any child under the age of 10.)
What is a reality though is the fact of sexual acts between children and that the laws about how treat them is not simple. Sex with a child between the age of 12 and 16 is rape unless the other person was the same age. If the one child was between 16 and 17 and there’s a two-year age gap between the two parties, it’s up to the National Director of Prosecutions whether to prosecute them.
This, if nothing else, recognises that children do commit sexual acts between themselves and the consequences of those acts are not always clear-cut in terms of how to mete out punishment if any. It may be part of the reason why the first sign that any act took place is often a swollen belly with the male nowhere to be found.
How much better then if kids are better prepared to resist or even speak up when they find themselves in this situation? And this is precisely what I sought to address. People see red when they hear of a pregnant child. They want retribution. But is it that simple? Sexuality education is about making sure all children have some capacity to have information when things go awry. That is where parents who resist CSE are unhelpful.
We cannot assume all the pregnancies are because of predatory grown men. And that is what is unpalatable for so many because how do you punish a 14-year-old for impregnating another child? There can be no debate about what should happen to adult perpetrators of these crimes. Lock them away and throw away the key.
But for all the others, let’s not be naïve to assume the acts are rarely between kids when in so many instances we simply don’t know.
Bongani Bingwa is the host of 702 Breakfast and a Carte Blanche Presenter