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Address by Minister Motshekga at the Life and Love at Schools Conference, 24 September 2009 speeches

 

Address by Minister Motshekga at the Life and Love at Schools Conference.

24 September 2009.

Conference Chairperson, Sr Bev Frieslich

Programme Director

Special Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

It is an honour for me to address this important occasion that aims to discuss how best to influence the life choices that our children make. Their present choices will not only impact their own lives, but also the future well-being and prosperity of our nation.

We need to look at the world through the eyes of our children and engage them seriously on how they can make a difference to their own lives with our support. We need to engage them on taking responsibility for their actions and to appreciate that choices have consequences. Young people are often accused of focusing on the present or at best the immediate future. We need to encourage them to lift up their eyes and to plan for their future.

The programmes of the Department of Basic Education articulate the values of the South African Constitution. We have vigorous social cohesion programmes that aim to build and strengthen a culture of values and human rights in our schools. Our Manifesto on Values, Education and Democracy stresses the values of equality, tolerance and acceptance and respect for the dignity of all. We are also beginning to focus on the responsibilities that each education stakeholder, and in particular our learners, must accept in order to build a quality education system that aims for excellence and achievement. Our Bill of Responsibilities for the Youth of South Africa stresses the indivisibility of rights and responsibilities and translates into a practical guide for our learners. Our programmes aim to raise awareness of HIV and AIDS and learner pregnancy and to open up the debate on life choices for young people. Through these, we are drawing on the constitutional values of responsibility, respect and openness.

Certainly the prevalence of HIV/AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and the high rates of teenage pregnancy amongst young people of school going age is a worrying concern for all of us. We know that there is a correlation between teenage pregnancy, HIV/AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections. Equally, it is well known that teenage sexual activity establishes the pace and level of fertility over a woman's entire reproductive life span, and that it does not only have an impact on the woman's health, but also on her future socio-economic status and general well being. We have yet to analyse sufficiently the negative consequences of early sexual activity or teenage fatherhood on the future well being of boys.

The HSRC recently released a research report on behalf of my Department called “ Teenage Pregnancy in South Africa , with specific focus on School-going Learners ”. The study analysed both the prevalence of teenage pregnancy and its determinants. The study showed that there is strong evidence that teenage pregnancy and the prevalence of HIV/AIDS could be interdependent, particularly with lactating teenage mothers, whose physiology puts them at an increased risk of contracting HIV. What I would also like to emphasise is that the study showed that HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, as well as unwanted early teenage pregnancy, have negative implications for continued educational opportunities, in particular for teenage mothers.

The study outlined key determinant factors for teenage pregnancy that should inform our discussions. It has established that early pregnancy rates are high in situations where young people drop out of school due to economic barriers and poor school performance. We therefore must make every effort to encourage and support our young people to remain at school, where they are protected. Keeping young people in schools therefore would help reduce drop out rates that eventually translate into early pregnancies as well as infections by HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Where poverty is deeply entrenched especially in informal and rural areas, as well as schools with a significant age differential / age mixing between learners, young girls are also prone to risk of early pregnancy. We must ensure that our learners in these communities are afforded equal educational opportunities and support. The study also found that children, who grow up alone without supervision by both parents, but particularly the mother, have higher chances of experiencing early pregnancy. Here we must work closely with our social partners, faith based organizations and other government departments to identify those children who are most at risk. It is also well known that our society finds it difficult to respond openly and fairly to issues of adolescent sexuality. Our young people often are unable to seek advice whether at home, in the community, at school or at the clinic. Young people are often confronted by negative responses and attitudes when they seek help from our health services.

We are aware that our attitudes to gender roles and the existing gender imbalances in our society often enable older men to decide the conditions under which sex happens. We are faced with the challenge that young people make conscious trade offs between health and economic security when struggling to meet immediate material needs. The reciprocity of sex in exchange for material goods often results in them remaining in dysfunctional relationships where they cannot negotiate safe sex with older lovers. Again the risk for early pregnancy is increased. We must empower our young women to value themselves and their potential. We must also encourage young men to anaylse the gender stereotypes that are perpetuated in our society that not only burden girls but also prevent boys from recognising their own common humanity. We must also ensure that our programmes are strongly rooted in the Constitutional principles of equality and mutual respect. We must accept all young people and make every one aware that gender identities are varied. The Constitution emphasizes non-discrimination on the basis of sex, gender or sexual orientation. We must therefore allow young people the freedom to choose gender identities, but equip them with the skills to protect themselves and to make informed choices without fear of stigma.

We need to ensure that teenagers who do fall pregnant are given a second chance to return and complete their education. This may very well help delay second pregnancies. It is disheartening to see that teenage mothers who have to juggle raising children with minimal support often experience the worse brunt of poverty, as well as going to school.

The sector needs to revisit other policy initiatives to create a practical solution to the challenges experienced by teenagers. The future of our country; as well as the safety and success of teenagers; lies in the hands of every member of society. Be it the government, the civil society, the faith based society, the traditional leadership sector, teacher unions, SGBs, parents and teenagers themselves – we must all join hands and strive towards resolving these challenges, and build a society that we can all be proud to live in.

I thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Written By: WebMaster WebMaster
Date Posted: 12/8/2009
Number of Views: 2355

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