With the new school year underway, abortion clinics and counsellors are bracing themselves for a spike in the number pregnant schoolgirls seeking abortions after becoming pregnant during the end of year vacation.
Several school principals confirm that pregnancy amongst school girls is increasing every year – and they blame it on too much leisure time and excessive partying over the holidays.
And abortion clinics in Cape Town say that traditionally there is a sharp increase in the number of schoolgirls aged between 12 and 18 who had unwanted pregnancies terminated after falling pregnant during the December break.
These unwanted pregnancies were often due to peer pressure and a lack of supervision while schools were closed, said Jock Strachan, spokesperson for the Marie Stopes abortion clinics in South Africa. A lack of parental guidance and poor education about the consequences of sexual activity, also contribute, he says.
Faith Manyathela, who is in grade 12 at Cape Town High School, says she had noticed how teenage pregnancy usually spiked after school holidays because pupils celebrated for weeks after receiving their exam results and ‘partied like there’s no tomorrow’.
“By February you notice a tummy, as their pregnancies begin to show,” she says..
Statistic gathered by Marie Stopes between 2007 and 2009, showed a 7% increase in the number of under 18s seeking abortions at the end of January, as compared to the rest of the year. Strachan said the highest number of abortions took place between January and March each year, within the legal three month period, and following the December school holidays. Marie Stopes South Africa terminated 933 pregnancies in 2007, 1 329 in 2008 and 998 last year.
In most cases teenagers felt the need to terminate their pregnancies so they could continue with their studies, Strachan said.
Pregnancy Help Centre manager Norma Theron said May was usually their busiest month, and June their quietest, but she was unsure what the reason for this was.
A principal at a City Bowl school, who did not want to be named, said 20 of his pupils, mostly in grades 9 and 10, had fallen pregnant last year -and he had even had an incident when a pupil had a miscarriage in his office.
“They are in the experimental phase and don’t know about contraception,” he says.
On Valentine’s Day last year he had called a learner into his office because she was visibly pregnant.
“But she pointed out five other girls who were also pregnant.”
As a result of the high number of pregnancies, the school was now involved in an initiative with the Chapel Street Clinic to teach teenage pupils about contraception, as well as to supply them with contraceptive devices.
Athlone Secondary School principal Howard Mackrill said 10 to15 of his learners, between the ages of 15 to 16, usually fell pregnant during the school year, compared to about five or six per year a decade ago.