Friday, May 20, 2011

In for a baby, in for a social grant

Early this year news reports cited “research” showing South African teens are deliberately falling pregnant in order to access social grants.

What utter bollocks.

I am not an advocate of teenage pregnancy; in fact I am vehemently against it as it interrupts a child’s life and interferes with her chances of a successful future. In rural areas (where the news reports claime there were 123 teen pregnant in one town in 2010 and 53 in Nkandla) children are faced with more challenges than those of children in urban areas. I’ll venture insofar as to say that if there are indeed children deliberately falling pregnant to access the social grant, it would likely be teens in urban areas more than those in rural areas.

The first challenge a rural teen faces is the traditional taboo attitude towards dating and socialising with boys that is common in rural areas. Parents zealously (sometimes enforcing their rules with a cane, a belt or sjambok) oppose their teenagers having boyfriends. These children are then forced to hide that they are dating because NOT dating is not an option. They’re teenagers for crying out loud!

Because of this skulking and hiding the teen is then alone in her relationship, often at the mercy of the advice of her friends and feels alienated from her parents who become Enemy No 1, it’s psychology 101, "a no-brainer" as the kids would say.

The second challenge these teens face is that while they are fully aware of contraceptives and condoms, they often do not use both. Kids I have spoken to would like to use contraceptives but the nurses in the clinics refuse them the service even though many of them go when they are 15 or 16 years old. The problem these teens face is that the nurses, instead of doing their jobs, are being proxy parents and deciding that if they give a teen contraception it is as good as cheering them on to have sex. A child who has decided to have sex will have sex, no matter the fear-mongering or beatings. And so they go without contraceptives.

As for condoms, the teens, raised in predominantly patriarchal households where their father’s word is law, even if the father is working in the city and is not home, are susceptible to their boyfriends’ will. The mantra of many black men is that a “real man” doesn’t wear a condom. They protest with a litany of excuses, including:
* The condom is too small (a problem that only seem to befall black men, *snort*)
* The condom smells funny,therby making sex nuaseating (as if it wasn't already ;))
* They are allergic to the lubricant
* Only a girl who knows they have AIDS would want to use a condom
* If you love/trust me you won’t use a condom

When the girl feebly raises the issue of pregnancy, he assures her that he will “pull out” in time. She believes him and takes her chance. The ploys used by black men in order to avoid using a condom are the same ploys that adult women fall for, what are the chances that a teen will be able to resist? How come women in their 30s aren’t condemned for unsafe sexual practices? Despite the arguments to the contrary, mature unemployed, unmarried, women also fall pregnant without planning to should be subject to the same scrutiny teens are in terms of whether or not they are opportunistically falling pregnant because they would also like to milk the state coffers dry, much like the leaders who condemn them for it do.

Although state clinics ought to provide the “morning after” pill I have yet to come across one that stocks it. If clinics do stock the pills the nursing staff of Harding and its surrounds has taken it upon itself to not provide them. So much so that teens stopped asking for it.

When a teen seeks to correct her “stupidly falling pregnant” circumstance by requesting a termination of pregnancy from a state hospital as she is legally allowed to the nurses refuse her the service because of their personal beliefs. I know of a child who was closeted in a room by seven nurses, all about the age of her mother and severely berated for even thinking about an abortion. I myself have an experience in which a doctor in a public hospital refused a cousin on mine an abortion merely because she disagreed with the reasons given for wanting one.

So there is a teen in a rural area, stuck with a pregnancy and without an out, why should she not make use of the state provided social grant in order to help raise this child? Sometimes the teen is still a recipient of a social grant herself. I would like to meet a person who has raised a child on R250 a month in this day and age - only that person can convince me gettting its possible to fall pregnant merely to secure R250 for 18 years of a child's life.

Does this research conclude that the teens then use the money for their personal needs, like maybe a sexy top to seduce old men in? Because that is the implication of the allegation that teens are falling pregnant on purpose. Who then provides for this new infant? Certainly not the poor family a rural teen often comes from. The teen’s schooling is interrupted and sometimes she may never go back to school because there is no one to take care of the baby. Is this research suggesting that teens are choosing this path for themselves? Is this research saying that teens would rather earn R250 per child for the rest of their lives? Is that the best that this country has created for children to aspire to?