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South African School Gives Hope to Pregnant Teens

S. African School Gives Hope to Pregnant Teens
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A special school for pregnant teenagers in South Africa is trying to help end the cycle of poverty associated with early birth. South African researchers say around 30 percent of girls in the country get pregnant by the time they are 19 years old and only a third of them stay in school while they're pregnant or after their babies are born.

A typical day for most girls in high school is spent chatting and laughing during recess and breaks. There is one major difference between most teenage girls and girls in this community - here, most will become mothers by the end of this year.

The Pretoria Hospital School is the only education facility in South Africa which has a section dedicated to allowing pregnant students to carry on their education. The school currently has a 100 girls between the ages of 13 and 19.

Most pregnant girls are forced to leave their previous schools because of social stigma.

"I thought they would judge me, and that's why I left. When I was in grade 9, there was a girl in grade 10 who got pregnant. When we walked through the halls, girls would go like 'She's pregnant, she's pregnant!' So that's why I didn't want to stay, because I know what the people think, and they judge easily," explained Nicole.

Sometimes, schools themselves decide to expel pregnant girls, despite the fact that it is against South African law. Once outcasted, many pregnant teenagers never finish their secondary education. Pregnancy is the cause of more 30 percent of high school dropouts.

Dorothy came close to being part of the statistic. After being expelled from school and forced to stay home for months trying to find a school that would accept her, she arrived in the community earlier this year. She said she enjoys a prejudice-free environment. "I began to feel welcome and not discriminated against, and it was lovely. Because we could all share about the same thing. They are all mothers, we share the same pain, the same joys, and the teachers don't constantly tell us about what a bad deed we did and they support us," she said.

Rina Van Niekerk, the school's principal, said the major challenge is to bring every student up to the appropriate education level and keep them on track.

"There is no cut-off date for learners to enroll at our school. So you will find that learners end up with in the 3rd term of the year, but they are behind the work schedule that we are following. So you need to get the girl on par with the rest of the girls," she explained. "Another challenge that we have in high absenteeism rate among the girls. They suffer from pregnancy related illnesses very often."

A teaching section for pregnant teenage students opened in the mid-80s -- and remains the only such school in South Africa.

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