News / Africa

    In South Africa, Pregnant Teens Face Many Risks

    Community health worker Ncedisa Paul (left) counsels a young mother who’s just given birth in a hospital near Zidindi, South Africa (Photos D.Taylor)     Community health worker Ncedisa Paul (left) counsels a young mother who’s just given birth in a hospital near Zidindi, South Africa (Photos D.Taylor)
    x
    Community health worker Ncedisa Paul (left) counsels a young mother who’s just given birth in a hospital near Zidindi, South Africa (Photos D.Taylor)
    Community health worker Ncedisa Paul (left) counsels a young mother who’s just given birth in a hospital near Zidindi, South Africa (Photos D.Taylor)
    Darren Taylor

    This is Part Four of a five-part series on Child Health in South Africa 
    Continue to Parts:     1 / 2 / 3 / 5



    ZIDINDI, SOUTH AFRICA -- For the first time in her life, the usually tenacious and optimistic Ncedisa Paul feels like surrendering.
     
    “I am tired of trying to help those who will not listen to sense. I am up to here,” she said, holding her hand against her forehead, “of trying to save people from themselves.”

    ​In the waiting room of a packed clinic, the frustrated community health worker sighed and said, “Before I started working here, I was the kind of person saying things like, ‘Every dark cloud has a silver lining….’”
     
    But these days, she doubts whether she has any power whatsoever over a storm that in recent years has been steadily building in Zidindi, a deeply impoverished part of South Africa’s Eastern Cape province.   
     
    Paul works for an NGO called Philani and provides basic health advice to women and children. She said teen pregnancies are rising dramatically in Zidindi, a district with a population of about 130,000.  
     
    The situation here mirrors what’s happening across South Africa, according to health workers and the country’s National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).
     
    In South Africa, it’s illegal for teens younger than 16 to have sex – even if it’s consensual. In August last year, the NPA authorized the prosecution of five teenagers, one of whom was pregnant, for having underage sex. 
     
    NPA spokesman Mthunzi Mhaga said at the time, “This problem seems to be continuing unabated as we continue to receive similar cases.”
    Unemployment in Zidindi stands at almost 100 percent. Most people live in mud huts and survive by growing their own food. Electricity is almost non-existent. People use the fields, forests and hills as toilets so local water sources are polluted with feces and urine. One in four women is HIV positive. There are few health facilities to serve the vast area, so people struggle to access healthcare. Each year, hundreds of children die of illnesses like diarrhea.    
     
    “More than 65 percent of the mothers we deal with in Zidindi are teenagers between 13 and 19 years old. It is common to see 15 year old girls who already have three kids,” said Paul. “But it always shocks me.”
     
    ‘They cannot eat words…’
     
    While guiding VOA around the district, the health worker visited a decrepit house. The inhabitants had sold all their possessions. They hadn’t eaten for days. Rain poured in through large cracks in the ceiling, wetting a girl and a baby sleeping on the floor below. 

    Paul is extremely frustrated at the high rate of teenage pregnancy in Zidindi (Photo:D.Taylor)Paul is extremely frustrated at the high rate of teenage pregnancy in Zidindi (Photo:D.Taylor)
    x
    Paul is extremely frustrated at the high rate of teenage pregnancy in Zidindi (Photo:D.Taylor)
    Paul is extremely frustrated at the high rate of teenage pregnancy in Zidindi (Photo:D.Taylor)
    Paul later commented, “The whole family – the mother and three teenaged daughters – is pregnant. The whole family! The mother is giving birth, the daughters also. Two of those daughters are HIV positive. They each have had three kids of their own.”
     
    Wringing her hands in frustration, she added, “I could have told them, ‘Please stop having babies.’ But those babies are going to provide these women with their only income for about the next 20 years. Am I going to provide them with that money every month? No. All I have for them are words and they cannot eat words. So I just kept quiet….”  
     
    The South African government gives poor families monthly support grants of the equivalent of about 40 dollars per child younger than 18. Paul says speculation in Zidindi is that the grant money is fueling all the pregnancies in the area.
     
    This is an argument that’s been made repeatedly all over South Africa in recent years. But in 2006 a study by the country’s Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) concluded that the child support grant has not dramatically increased teen pregnancy since its introduction in 1998. It found, for example, that only 20 percent of teens who bear children actually receive the grant, as most do not have the identity documents necessary to apply for the money.

    ​The research concluded, “There are no grounds to believe that young South African girls are deliberately having children in order to access welfare benefits.” 
    However, it acknowledged that the issue could only be settled conclusively by a “specially designed” study.


    But Paul is insistent that some women who have ID books have as many children as possible simply to increase their grant income.
     
    “When you see and hear what I see every day, this is clear,” she says. “In one family (I know) this woman having eight children. The other one is…pregnant now (with) the tenth one. Then the other one is pregnant (with) the ninth one. That’s the way it is here.”
     
    Drinking dens


    Paul did however acknowledge that there are also other complex reasons for all the unplanned pregnancies. 
     
    Other than a few barren football fields, there are no forms of recreation for the young people of Zidindi. In addition, shebeens, or informal bars, abound. These provide fertile ground for the exploitation of desperate and bored teenage girls.  

    Other than a few rugged football fields, there are no recreational facilities for the young people of Zidindi (Photo:D.Taylor)Other than a few rugged football fields, there are no recreational facilities for the young people of Zidindi (Photo:D.Taylor)
    x
    Other than a few rugged football fields, there are no recreational facilities for the young people of Zidindi (Photo:D.Taylor)
    Other than a few rugged football fields, there are no recreational facilities for the young people of Zidindi (Photo:D.Taylor)
    “They end up entertaining themselves by drinking in the shebeens and (they) mess around with boys. You can see them sitting around on these high heels with boys,” said Paul.
     
    In a local tavern on a recent Friday night, many of the patrons, and especially the females, were clearly much younger than the legal drinking age of 18. Over quarts of beer and bottles of brandy, rum and whisky, the girls partied with men who were much older.
     
    Surveying the scene, Paul shook her head and commented, “Some of the huts are converted into taverns in these areas. So you’ll find (the girls) there, the whole night, sitting, drinking and dancing. On Fridays, they are not sleeping, leaving their small ones behind with the grannies.”

    The National Prosecuting Authority’s Mthunzi Mhaga said alcohol is a “common denominator” in the spate of illegal underage sex in South Africa.
     
    Illegal marriage
     
    Paul said most of the teen mothers her NGO deals with have older boyfriends and husbands, many who work about 1,000 miles away from Zidindi in mines in northern South Africa. 

    “Those men have money to give to these girls. So they get better things from them, like cellphones, and then they can dress up smartly so that (it) cannot be seen that they are not working. The money also allows them to take better care of their children,” Paul explained.
     
    She said most of the girls in Zidindi drop out of school when they get pregnant. Many get married, she said, adding that marriage symbolizes “great achievement” for local girls.
     
    “They are so confident, telling you that ‘I am a woman now; I am married, you see!’ Some of them are wearing rings, whereas they do not even have a marriage certificate. They have got that status that they are married,” said Paul. 

    In South Africa it’s also illegal for girls under the age of 16 to marry. But Paul said there’s no enforcement of this law.
     
    “The government knows it’s illegal but no officials ever come here to check things out and the girls carry on getting married. The mothers take their young daughters to marry 30- and 40- and even 50-year-old men, for money, because everyone’s so poor here. It’s poverty that’s driving all of this.”  
     
    In fact, Paul said girls barely into puberty compete to see who’ll get married first.
     
    “It’s like a joke and it’s so nice to them to say it out, proudly, ‘I’m going to be married to a 30-year-old boy and he’s mine!’”
     
    But it’s not a joke. The NGO worker pointed out that the next she hears about the girls is that they’ve been infected with HIV by their husbands, who usually have many other sexual partners elsewhere. 
     
    No sex education
     
    Paul insisted that there’s “purposeful ignorance” of contraception in the Zidindi district. “There are free condoms at the clinics but no one uses them. The girls are scared the men will leave them if they insist to use condoms. The men say you don’t eat sweets with the papers on….”  
     
    She said parents do not talk about sex with their children. “When you’re talking about even contraceptives, (the parents) say, ‘Oh, not in front of me, oh, not in front of me.’”
     
    Paul said she’s confronted with intense resistance when trying to give sex education in the district. “I try to talk about sex with the youngsters here; it’s no good, because of the parents and the grandparents. They block me. I will ask a 15-year-old girl who I know is having sex for her family planning card. Then the mother will intervene, screaming, ‘Hayi! (No!) Don’t come here to my house and talk about such things! Get out!’”
     
    According to Paul, an attitude of “simply ignoring that something bad is happening” has long fueled teen pregnancies in areas like Zidindi.
     
    It’s a conspiracy of ignorance that she once fought to defeat with furious “shouts and screams.”
     
    These days, however, she feels as if she’s merely adding to the weight of silence around the issue. “I am losing my voice,” she acknowledged, while dejectedly ambling away from yet another counseling session.

    Listen to: report on consequences of teen pregnancies
    Listen to: report on consequences of teen pregnanciesi
    || 0:00:00
    ...    
     
    X

    You May Like

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Before burial at overflowing cemeteries, unidentified dead being swapped for DNA, in case some day relatives come to learn their fate

    Russian Opposition Leader Sues Putin for Conflict of Interest

    Alexei Navalny tells VOA in exclusive interview why transfer of $2 billion from country’s wealth fund to company with ties to President Putin’s son-in-law triggered lawsuit

    Clinton, Sanders Fight for African American Votes

    Some African American lawmakers lining up to support Clinton in face of perceived surge by Sanders in race for Democratic nomination in presidential campaign

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Filli
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 11, 2016 8:01 PM
    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video US Co-ed Selective Service Plan Stirs Controversy

    Young women may soon be required to register with the U.S. Selective Service System, the U.S. government agency charged with implementing a draft in a national emergency. Top Army and Marine Corps commanders told the Senate Armed Services Committee recently that women should register, and a bill has been introduced in Congress requiring eligible women to sign up for the military draft. The issue is stirring some controversy, as VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from New York.
    Video

    Video Lessons Learned From Ebola Might Help Fight Zika

    Now that the Ebola epidemic has ended in West Africa, Zika has the world's focus. And, as Carol Pearson reports, health experts and governments are applying some of the lessons learned during the Ebola crisis in Africa to fight the Zika virus in Latin America and the Caribbean.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Illinois Voters Have Mixed Emotions on Obama’s Return to Springfield

    On the ninth anniversary of the launch of his quest for national office, President Barack Obama returned to Springfield, Illinois, to speak to the Illinois General Assembly, where he once served as state senator. His visit was met with mixed emotions by those with a front-row seat on his journey to the White House. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Heated Immigration Debate Limits Britain’s Refugee Response

    Compared to many other European states, Britain has agreed to accept a relatively small number of Syrian refugees. Just over a thousand have arrived so far -- and some are being resettled in remote corners of the country. Henry Ridgwell reports on why Britain’s response has lagged behind its neighbors.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.