Girls as young as ten were among 553 children under 14 who became pregnant and gave birth in the Eastern Cape during the 2022/2023 financial year.
These shocking statistics were revealed by Health MEC, Nomakosazana Meth, in response to questions from the Democratic Alliance (DA) in parliament.
DA EC Shadow MEC for Health, Jane Cowley, expressed concern that despite the high number of underage pregnancies and births, the Health Department’s Thuthuzela Centres only reported 60 cases of statutory rape in the current financial year.
According to Cowley, this suggests statutory rape cases are being significantly underreported.
Cowley emphasised that statutory rape in South Africa is defined as a sexual act between an adult and a minor who has not reached the legal age of consent, which is sixteen years old.
“This raises concerns about the age of the sexual partners of these girls or a failure by Thuthuzela Centres to report cases to police and the Department of Social Development,” said Cowley.
According to Cowley, pregnancies and births by underage girls have a devastating impact on their well-being and the socio-economic welfare of their families.
The provincial government has to allocate resources from various departments to support them.
“The Department of Health claims to be working with the private sector to address this issue, but more efforts are needed. Parents, guardians, and carers also have a responsibility to guide and support children to prevent them from engaging in early sexual activity.”
The DA is calling on the National Department of Health and other stakeholders to establish a policy to guide healthcare workers, social workers, and the police in dealing with early teenage pregnancies.
In cases of statutory rape, Cowley maintains perpetrators must be held accountable, regardless of the family’s decision to press charges.
The DA vowed to continue to advocate for the rights of young girls to enjoy their youth free from sexual interference and the responsibilities of motherhood.