On Children’s Day don’t forget that teenage girls are children too
Teenage girls are in the public spotlight where they stand accused of deliberately falling pregnant to abuse the child support grant system. There is no solid evidence to support this claim, which only stereotypes girls and hides the link between sexual violence and teenage pregnancy.
Research by the Medical Research Council into teenage pregnancy found that 32% of the pregnant girls versus 18% of the non-pregnant girls in their study reported their first sexual experience as having been coerced. The study also found that girls whose first sexual encounter was not consensual were 14 times more likely to later have a teenage pregnancy.
Given this finding, it is of great concern that in terms of section 54 of the 2007 Sexual Offences Act, all girls under the age of 16 who fall pregnant must be reported to the police. This is because their pregnancy is obvious proof that a sexual offence has been committed against a child. If the police investigation shows that the girl consented to the sexual relations which resulted in her pregnancy, then she can also be charged in terms of section 15 of the Sexual Offences Act. (This provision allows for the prosecution of children under 16 who have consensual sex with one another.)
As South Africa celebrates International Children’s Day on 1 June, the Shukumisa Campaign reminds the public and the media that girls under the age of 18 are children and protected by section 28 of the South African Constitution. This states that a child’s best interests are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child. Informed public debate around the causes of teenage pregnancy is in girls’ best interests – but criminalising their sexual behaviour and subjecting them to court processes is not.
We also call on the Department of Justice to repeal section 15 of the Sexual Offences Act.
Note: Sections 15 and 16 of the Sexual Offences Act are being challenged by the Teddy Bear Clinic and Resources Aimed at the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (RAPCAN). The Women’s Legal Centre and the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre have been admitted as amicus in the matter.
For more information please contact:
Lisa Vetten, Tshwaranang 0828226725
Vivienne Mentoor-Lalu, RAPCAN 0824940788