Workshop tackles teen pregnancy

Zoe Foundation founder Tracey Aitken, teenage antenatal facilitator Colleen Kandan, doula Ellen Solomons, councillor George Solomons, Moira van Wyk and Joslynn de Long.

The Western Cape recorded more than 11 000 teenage pregnancies – 325 of them involving girls aged 10 to 14 over the past year. The organisers of a workshop in Westlake this Friday hope to bring those numbers down.

The workshop will teach girls and boys about the realities of teenage pregnancy and how to make informed decisions about their lives, say the organisers.

It is being held jointly by the Westlake United Church Trust (WUCT), Reddam House Constantia and Tokai Library, from 3pm to 4pm, at the Westlake United Church Trust, on the corner Egret Close and Westlake Drive, for 12-to-18-year-olds.

Colleen Kandan had her first child at 15. That was 40 years ago, a time when teen pregnancy was frowned on. Giving birth, she had the support of the nursing staff, but the doctor put a blanket in front of the baby.

“I couldn’t see if it was a boy or a girl. I couldn’t breastfeed the baby so there was no bonding. Now I know that the first milk is important to prevent bad gut health and allergies,” she says.

Ms Kandan is now a teenage antenatal facilitator with the Zoe Foundation, a non-profit organisation that promotes the importance of the first 1000 days of a baby’s life.

“A child’s health is most vulnerable during this period, from conception until a child’s second birthday,” says Zoe Project founder Tracey Aitken.

About 160 babies are born at the Retreat maternity clinic each month, says Ms Aitken, and the Zoe Foundation offers one-on-one antenatal classes there and teaches the mothers about good nutrition. The organisation has a drop-off point at Schoonstatt Estate in Constantia, between 10am and 2pm, on Wednesdays, for baby items.

Ms Kandan says the realities of teen pregnancy can be very stark. “Often the girl does not know the surname of the boy. Sometimes rape, alcohol or drugs are involved. Often it’s a friend of the brother – they feel the vibe, the next step is sex.”

Domestic violence, abuse, poor education, a breakdown in the family structure and poverty are just some of the factors that increase the chances of teen pregnancy, according to WUCT project manager Nicci Woodbridge and Louette Maccallum of WUCT’s home based care unit. And Covid-19 also isn’t helping, they add.

Another problem is prevailing attitudes that see talk about sex and contraception as taboo.

Ms Woodbridge and Ms Maccallum have heard from teens who say they have been reprimanded when asking for contraceptives at clinics and hospitals.

“This leads to fear of being ‘seen’ by community members at clinics. Going to clinics in outside areas is challenging as they lack transport money. If they borrow money they sometimes are coerced to ‘pay back’ leading to abuse,” says Ms Woodbridge.

Ms Aitken says teens also do not realise that giving birth will be painful because their bodies are not ready.

According to provincial Department of Health spokesman Byron la Hoe, pregnancy and childbirth-related complications remain the leading cause of death in 15-to-19-year-old females in low- and middle-income countries.

Young girls are still developing and their birthing canals might not be wide enough to allow a baby to pass through, he says. This means that she will need a C-section, which is a major operation that comes with its own risks.

Young mothers aged 10 to 19 have increased risks of developing pre-eclampsia, eclampsia and puerperal endometritis, compared to women aged 20 to 24.

Mr La Hoe says free contraceptives should be available in health facilities, and health workers should discuss the concerns and needs of adolescent girls and help them find the contraceptive method that suits them.

WUCT general manager Veloshni Baker says regular teen-awareness programmes in schools and colleges are the answer. The workshop this Friday will teach teens to “know their value”, she says.

“Care packs with sanitary towels will be handed out to all girls attending the workshop,” she says.