Schools will now have to send a report to the police when a pupil who is younger than 16 is pregnant – and if the father of the child is older than 16 (and therefore a rapist), civil and criminal proceedings will have to be followed.
This is according to the department of basic education’s policy on the prevention and management of pregnancy in schools, which was gazetted by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga last week.
Among other things, the policy aims to reduce and manage the rate of schoolgirl pregnancies, which it states has become a “major challenge” for the basic education system and national development.
City Press reported in September that figures from the department of health had revealed that 14 176 girls aged between 10 and 14 had fallen pregnant over the past four years. In the same financial year, 496 683 girls aged between 15 and 19 had fallen pregnant.
As the age of consent for both boys and girls is 16 in terms of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act of 2007, the underage girls who fell pregnant had technically been raped.
Now, according to the new policy, when an underage pupil falls pregnant, “[it] may give rise to mandatory or voluntary reporting by the educator appointed by the school to provide counselling, support and advice”.
“Specifically, if the pregnant pupil is under the age of 16, this would require mandatory reporting to the SA Police Service, and entail civil and criminal proceedings against the male partner if he is over the age of 16.
These legal implications for both the pupil and her partner, therefore, require the utmost sensitivity and guidance,” the policy reads.
It also states that, when a pupil falls pregnant, “attention” needs to be paid to the father, whether he is a schoolboy, an educator or a person outside the education system.
“On confirmation of the biological father’s identity, if he is a pupil, he should be counselled and guided to assume and sustain his rights and responsibilities,” reads the policy, adding that if the father is a teacher or staff member in the basic education system, he should be suspended and subjected to disciplinary and legal procedures as per the sector’s legislation.
Early this year, the department amended the Employment of Educators Act, which states that if a teacher is found to have had a sexual relationship with or sexually abused a pupil, that teacher will be banned for life from teaching.
The policy reads: If the biological father is a person outside the basic education system, he, too, should be subjected to judicial enquiry and action if there is a case to answer on the grounds of coercion, sexual violence and assault or statutory rape.
RIGHT TO ATTEND SCHOOL
Schools also have no right to prevent girls who are pregnant from attending school, which they can do until eight months into their pregnancy, provided they can provide a medical certificate stating that they are fit to do so.
According to the policy, a school must allow the pregnant girl to remain in school during and after her pregnancy, while the principal, teachers and other staff members will be expected to take “reasonable steps to accommodate the pupil’s basic education, health and material needs”.
“To facilitate the application of these rights, pupils who are over six months pregnant will be required to submit a medical certificate indicating the status of their pregnancy and estimated delivery date. In addition, the pregnant pupil will be asked to provide medical reports to her appointed educator or school principal, certifying that it is safe for her to continue with her schooling, if she wishes to stay in school beyond eight months of pregnancy.
“If the pupil does not provide this information and fails to provide an explanation, she may be asked to take a leave of absence until medical proof is provided. Medical information provided by the pupil to her educator or the principal shall be strictly confidential to protect the pupil’s right to privacy,” states the policy.
Schools will also be expected to be flexible in dealing with the absence of a pregnant pupil or after she has given birth, “provided only that the pupil is not taking off a disproportionate amount of time”.
“In this event, the school principal will seek a meeting with the pupil and/or her parents, guardians or caregivers to agree on a leave of absence. At all times, the school’s principal, senior management team, governing body and educators will be supportive and sympathetic in each case.”
Furthermore, no one within the schooling environment has the right to disclose information relating to the pregnant pupil without written consent from her parents or guardian, or in any circumstances if she is younger than 12.
To discourage pupils from engaging in sex, the policy also provides that through life orientation – or other subjects – they will be given age-appropriate comprehensive sexual education.
In addition, pupils will have access to adolescent and youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services.
“Pupils in the basic education system must have access to sexual and reproductive health information and skills, accurate knowledge about delayed sexual début, abstinence and contraception, and information about the role of gender and power in relationships, in order to make informed life choices and help protect them from unintended pregnancy,” reads the policy.
It adds that they will receive age-appropriate information about contraception, which will include guidance on the influence of alcohol or drugs, which may contribute to pupils falling pregnant.
“Reasonable access to male and female condoms, as well as information on their use, will be made available to all pupils aged 12 years and above, depending on their level of enquiry or need. Where condoms and information on their use cannot be provided in schools, integrated school health policy nurses will ensure that pupils are able to access condoms, as well as the requisite information and support services in a youth-friendly environment.”
School governing bodies will be expected to support the department of basic education’s pupil pregnancy policy and factor it in when making school policies.