Maybe you know or have heard of a teenager who became pregnant unintentionally. Or perhaps you have had this experience? It is certainly quite common – in 2017 nearly 123 000 babies were registered in South Africa by mothers in their teens and more than 3 000 of these were born to girls aged 10 to 14 years. (Statistics SA. Recorded births, 2017)
Many teenage pregnancies are unplanned – despite the expansion of contraceptive methods available in South Africa – and the reasons for young women continuing to have babies before they are ready and willing are complex.
World Contraception Day, observed globally on 26 September, aims to raise awareness of the variety of contraceptive methods available and enable women to make informed choices about their sexual and reproductive health.
A few weeks ago, I attended a workshop on Adolescent Girls and Young Women (AGYW) HIV Prevention and Sexual Reproductive Health, and I met 19-year-old young woman Linda (not her real name). She told me about her three children that she is raising with the help of her family. Because she is so young, I asked her if she had planned all her pregnancies. She reluctantly said two were not planned. I was curious to understand how everything happened to the point where she is now thriving, so we continued our conversation.
“Linda, before dating or even having your first sexual encounter at 16 years, did you know about contraceptives?” I asked. “What are contrace…?” she asked. As I explained what contraceptives are, she recognised them as “prevention”, a common term used in the community.
This was an instant lesson to me to modify (or at least explain) words such as “contraception”’ when working in community settings in order to enhance communication.
She explained that she had heard other girls talking about the three-month injection that makes them gain weight and get wet during sex. Also, she heard of pills that are taken every day – and that she didn’t like taking pills.
I probed if she went to the local clinic to seek accurate information on contraception given all she has heard from her friends. She continued to explain that she didn’t go to the clinic because she thought the nurses would shout at her and turn her away because she was too young. ‘’Besides, my boyfriend said I would not fall pregnant as it was my first time having sex. I believed him, and a few months later I was pregnant.”
Linda said at the age of 18 she was not using any long-term prevention when she met someone else. She took a morning-after pill whenever she had unprotected sex with her partner and became pregnant again.
Linda’s story is common in Africa: a lot of adolescent girls and young women before their sexual debut are misinformed or have not received comprehensive education about their reproductive system and the potential health consequences of unprotected sex. Most healthcare centres are not designed to accommodate young people’s sexual and reproductive health needs, and this discourages young people from seeking accurate information and accessing services. Myths and misconceptions about contraceptives abound and contribute to low uptake among young women.
Linda has since received guidance and information through the support of the organisation that educates and empowers young women on HIV and SRH issues. Right now, she is using a long-term contraceptive method of her choice as she is clear that she has no plans of having more children.
This World Contraception Day, I urge my fellow sisters to empower yourselves and others around you so that you can make informed choices about your sexual and reproductive health. Knowledge is the first step to empowerment and you can find a wealth of information at https://www.your-life.com/en/contraception-methods/#methods-
Please note that names have been changed to protect the privacy of the young woman.