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«Suggested citation: Panday, S., Makiwane, M., Ranchod, C., & Letsoalo, T. (2009). Teenage pregnancy in South Africa - with a specific focus on ...»

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Source: Status of Youth Survey, 2003 Low socioeconomic status is a significant predictor of teenage pregnancy among both young male and female parents. The concentration of poverty among African-American communities in the US means that young men from these communities are more likely to father children while under the age of 20 compared to other race groups (Clark, Zabin, & Hardy, 1984; Rivara, Sweeney & Henderson, 1987). Given the high levels of socioeconomic disadvantage and teenage pregnancy among African and Coloured communities in SA, it can be reasonably assumed that early fatherhood would concentrate in these communities. However, determinant studies are required to map the profile of young fathers in SA.

Two schools of thought have been put forward about the age of male partners. While some studies report that partners of teenage mothers are themselves teenagers, others report partners as being older. Larson et al., (1996) indicated that the mean age of male partners was 19.5 years, while Taylor et al., (1999) showed that teenage mothers were impregnated by males who were at least eight years older than themselves. In fact, a review of the antecedents of teenage pregnancy in the US reported involvement with older male partners as a significant risk factor for early pregnancy (Kirby, 2007). Regional data on age patterns of first parenthood showed that very small percentages of young men in Eastern and Southern Africa (1.7%) report early fatherhood (NRC & IOM, 2005). Although the low percentages may be indicative of the inability of men to verify paternity, the small proportion might also be an indication that teenage girls are impregnated by older men.

76 Teenage pregnancy in South Africa - with a specific focus on school-going learners Mixed reports with regards to the age of male partners are also provided in SA. Several South African studies (Wood et al., 1997; Jewkes et al., 2001) have indicated that boyfriends of pregnant teenagers tend to be older.

However, the 2003 RHRU national survey indicated that two thirds of young women were in fact involved in sexual relations with their peers (Pettifor et al., 2005). While only 9.7% of females were involved with a male partner of the same age, 57.7% reported that their partner was 1-4 years older and 32.6% reported that their most recent partner was at least 5 years older.

Attitudes towards early fatherhood

Much like young women, young men report a strong emotional response – of shock, fear, shame and embarrassment, on hearing about their impending fatherhood (Swartz & Bhana, 2009). While most teenage fathers involved in the study were not ready for fatherhood, they expressed a deep sense of responsibility for the child and a willingness to be actively involved in the child’s life. Unlike reports from the perspective of young women, few young men spoke of denying paternity. In the context of multiple sexual partnerships these young men were uncertain if they were the father of the child. In addition, they expressed a fear of being stigmatized by the teen mothers’ family due to their inability to provide financial support to the child.

For young men interviewed by Swartz & Bhana (2006), being a father had little to do with proving fertility and masculinity as with being present (‘being there’), talking to and guiding children, and providing financial support. A qualitative study among young Zulu school students also reported that fatherhood was not about affirming masculinity or social standing, but about ‘being there’ and providing for their children (Morrell, 2007).

Studies in the US and UK also report on the sense of responsibility that young men associate with fatherhood and the strong desire to be actively involved in the lives of their children (Bunting & McAuley, 2004).

Both local (Swartz & Bhana, 2009) and international (Bunting & McAuley, 2004) studies show that the key motivation to be present and to participate in their children’s lives is the absence of their own fathers. South Africa has a sizeable proportion of ‘hidden fathers’, especially among the Black population (Posel & Devey, 2006). In 2002, an estimated 55% of Black children living in rural areas had absent fathers (Posel & Devey, 2006). The notion of absent father has its roots in the historical migrant labour system where Black men migrated to urban areas in search of work without their spouses and children (Montgomery et al., 2006).

Although the migrant labour system persists in contemporary society, high levels of unemployment also serve as a significant barrier to young Black men paying ilobolo (bridewealth). As a result, marriage is delayed and care for children is often compromised.

Barriers to teen fatherhood

Despite the deep sense of responsibility expressed by young fathers towards their children in the study by Swartz & Bhana (2009), a number of factors serve as barriers to them fulfilling their role as father (see Table 16). Chief amongst these is the carer versus financial provider role, poor relationship with the female partner and her family, and cultural factors related to negotiation of paternity and ongoing responsibility for the child.

–  –  –

Table 15: Factors affecting young fathers’ wellbeing and participation in parenting

• The cultural measure of responsibility equated with money





• Young men’s view of money dominant over practices and qualities

• Rejection by mother of child’s family

• High unemployment rates

• Multiple concurrent partnerships amongst young men

• Ignorance about basic biology and contraception

• Foreshortened view of the future

• Parents hijacking young fathers responsibility

• Geographical separation between father and child

• The failure of services and sex education

Source: Swartz & Bhana, 2009

Even though young men identify both caring (being present and talking) and provider roles as what it means to be a good father, in practice, caring is overtaken by the deeply entrenched need to provide for the child financially. ‘Father as the provider’ is what was role modelled by their own fathers (or a role that they want to change because of their father absence) and is what is generally viewed as the traditional role of fathers. More modern conceptions may be challenging this uni-dimensional role of fathers, but nevertheless still takes on a secondary role to financial provision. Studies in the US and UK also highlight the strong provider role that young fathers adopt (Coley & Chase-Landsdale, 1998; Bunting & McAuley, 2004; Speake, Cameron & Gilroy, 1997).

This is often in conflict with the view of young women who view male partners as absent because of their failure to assist with child-rearing responsibilities. But taking on financial responsibility is often beyond the reach of young men in SA because of incomplete education and high levels of unemployment. As a result, they ‘feel small’ - ‘like a kid’ because of their inability to care for their children financially. Such a discourse is indicative of the fractured transitions and internal conflict that young people face when parenthood precedes education and work. While parenthood may confer the status of a man, the lack of education and work opportunities to fulfil the role of provider, renders them a boy.

Families, together with the relationship with the mother of the child, also play a seminal role in the level of involvement that a young father enjoys in his child’s life. While mothers of young fathers are recognised as significant sources of emotional and financial support, they may inadvertently prevent young men from taking on responsibility for their children in an attempt to protect their educational opportunities. The young women’s family, however, particularly, her mother and male members of her family, were considered to be the biggest hindrance to young men taking on fatherhood responsibilities. Often young men are denied access to the child when he has a falling out with the teen mother or because he is considered an unsuitable partner for the teenage mother. Studies from the US have also indicated that mothers are a significant source of support for young fathers but that conflict with the mother of the child, and particularly, maternal grandparents are a significant barrier to a young father’s continued involvement in the life of his child (Miller, 1994; Miller, 1997;

Rhein et al., 1997).

In SA, cultural rites, intended to facilitate access to children, can sometimes also serve as a barrier to young men establishing relationships with their children (Swartz & Bhana, 2006). As alluded to earlier in the report, acknowledgement of paternity in the African population rests with the male’s family and is negotiated through ‘damage’ payments to the teenage mother’s family as a compensation for early pregnancy. Young fathers are 78 Teenage pregnancy in South Africa - with a specific focus on school-going learners often not included in the negotiations because they seldom have completed initiation rites that afford them the authority and standing to participate in such processes. In addition, often they do not have the financial means to make damage payments. In ceding responsibility for damage payments to families, young men inadvertently also cede responsibility for childcare arrangements. In such a context, despite good intentions, young fathers often become estranged from their children.

Just like young mothers, young fathers require support to improve their educational and economic circumstances in order to fulfil caregiver and provider roles. In the absence of institutional support, families play a critical role in cushioning the blow of early fatherhood by taking on care-giving roles. But in some cases, cultural practices that govern family responses –no doubt well intended, serve to estrange young men from their children. While a greater understanding of culture and continued father involvement in children’s lives is warranted (Swartz & Bhana, 2009), together with much more empirical data on young fatherhood, other policy options may have to be considered to ensure paternal support for children. These include gender-based interventions that extend the repertoire of fatherhood beyond ‘providing’ to being ‘present and talking’, especially in impoverished conditions where unemployment and poverty is high. In addition, consideration should be given to legal child support arrangements, much like in the US, where legislative interventions have resulted in increased levels of paternal involvement among children of teenage mothers (Coley & Chase-Lansdale, 1998). SA does have the child support grant and Maintenance Act of 1998, but both do not accommodate teenage fathers. This represents a missed opportunity for increasing support to the child.

79 Teenage pregnancy in South Africa - with a specific focus on school-going learners Policy and Programmes Determining the best policy and programme direction for teenage pregnancy requires sober reflection on the ‘complexity and kaleidoscopic nature of the problem’ (Brindis, 2006). Kirby (2007) in a recent comprehensive review of interventions to prevent teenage pregnancy and STIs in the US offers some guidelines about where and with whom to intervene. The review identified more than 500 factors that influence adolescent sexual behaviour. Some of these are inherent to who the young person is, but many more are rooted in the context in which young people grow up - families, partners, peers and communities. As such, single strategies directed at individuals will not radically change the trajectory of teenage pregnancy and STIS. Nevertheless, they are an important part of the mix of interventions because all young people at some point in their lives will encounter their sexuality. Having complete and accurate knowledge and the right mix of skills will assist them in making health-promoting decisions. Some young people, however, are at increased risk for pregnancy because of the imbalance in protective and risk factors, often linked to multiple sources of disadvantage in the homes and communities in which they grow up. For these young people, targeted and intensive programmes will be required to alter negative trajectories.

Some realism must also be applied to factors that are amenable to change and those that are not and, particularly, what might be the most effective contribution that a particular sector can make to such a multifaceted problem. To reduce risk for teenage pregnancy requires comprehensive interventions in the school, the home, the healthcare setting, in communities and society at large. Because the strongest and most proximal determinants of sexual behaviour, and those most amenable to change, are young people’s knowledge, attitudes, norms and confidence in their skills, prevention programmes should focus on evidence-based education programmes. These need to be supported by interventions among partners, peers, families and siblings – the most proximal role models for adolescent sexual behaviour. Although non-sexual risk factors are modestly related to teenage pregnancy and STIS, some of these can be modified and should be addressed through interventions.

But the context also needs to be taken into account in deciding on the mix of interventions. Although the evidence on risk factors for early pregnancy are not as advanced in SA as in the US, available evidence suggests that structural factors such as poor educational and economic prospects and cultural constructions of femininity and masculinity, underpinned by gender imbalances, create disincentives for, and disempower, women to protect themselves against pregnancy. While these factors are not readily amenable to change, should we choose not to invest in changing them, radical changes in teenage pregnancy, STIs and HIV will not be achieved. Sexuality is a shared activity between two partners. It makes little sense to empower women about their sexuality without concomitant efforts to empower young men.



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