President Zuma’s solution, in the debate in the House of Traditional Leaders in Parliament yesterday, to the problem of teenage pregnancy and teenage parenting, and reported in Beeld this morning as:  “Tienerouers moet op Robbeneiland of “die een of ander eiland” gehou word totdat hulle opgelei en gekwalifiseerd is om na hul kinders om te sien”, is cause for grave concern.

Surely, our president could not have been serious!

Whilst we are acutely aware of the problem of teenage pregnancy and the problem of “teenagers/children” raising children, the challenge is a deeply complex one.  Surely, we need to be examining the root causes of the rise in the number of teenage pregnancies so that solutions are found which address these.

We need to realise that we are dealing with families – the basic unit of society – and all our efforts need to focus on the preservation of families.  How can removal of mothers until they are “trained and qualified to take care of their children” even be contemplated?  Research has shown that early emotional attachment or “bonding” is critical for future well-being and the ability to form meaningful relationships.  Teenagers fall pregnant as a result of their attempts to meet their basic human needs for belonging, attachment, love and being cared for.  Until families are able to meet these needs, teenagers will continue to fall pregnant with all the concomitant related problems, including HIV infection, social, emotional and financial deprivation.  Of most serious concern, however, is the potential that exists for child abuse and neglect, and, in the long term, perpetuation of the cycle of teenage pregnancy.

Whether we like it or not – and we certainly do not condone teenage pregnancy, the fact of the matter is that the teenage mother and father have the responsibility of caring for their child.  We need to provide them with the support and guidance they need so that they may nurture and care for these children and not ship them off to “die een of ander eiland”.

What is quite interesting is that promoting and strengthening responsible parenting, where parents are encouraged and supported in their expected roles in the upbringing of their children, is a key principle of the South African Government’s very own White Paper on Families.

The Parent Centre has been providing parenting and life skills training and support to teenage parents over the past 10 years.  We have seen the teenagers, despite all the challenges they face as teenage parents, rise to the challenge, and become good nurturing parents to these children.  Yes, they do need the support of their families, their teachers, NPO’s like ours and even the Child Care Grant, in order to assume the responsibility of raising their children.  What neither they, nor their children need, is to be irresponsibly and thoughtlessly shipped off to some island!

Mr President, please think again ….

Julia Starck

Teen Parenting Programme Manager

The Parent Centre Cape Town

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