South Africa

Condom vending machines join arsenal of interventions to help pupils

Condom vending machines join arsenal of interventions to help pupils

The department of basic education has made available condom vending machines in some schools in a bid to decrease teenage pregnancies and the incidence of HIV/Aids.

The provision of condoms is one of the services offered in a programme targeting adolescent girls and young women aged 10 to 19.

Working with the department of health, the programme provides a range of services, including HIV testing, emergency contraception when a child is raped, and screening, investigation and treatment of sexually transmitted infections.

Granville Whittle, one of the department’s deputy directors-general, told parliament on Tuesday during a briefing on teenage pregnancies that the programme also provides support for teen parents on how they can take care of their babies.

Figures for national deliveries in facilities by the department of health revealed that 132,612 girls aged 15 to 19 fell pregnant in 2020 and a further 35,209 between January and March this year. A shocking 3,774 girls aged 10-14 years fell pregnant last year and 1,053 in the first three months of this year.

The Northern Cape recorded the highest rate of teenage pregnancies, according to figures for births for the period April 2020 to March 2021. The province was followed by the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

“Girls don’t drop out because they fall pregnant; they fall pregnant because they dropped out and so schooling is a protective factor,” said Whittle.

He said the Covid-19 pandemic “has exacerbated the problem [of teenage pregnancy] and has left girls more vulnerable”.

The intervention offers “an age-tailored combination prevention programme for girls aged 10-19” targeting those in school and out-of-school.

Even if you want to go and open a case, how are you going to open it if the mother says, 'We are dealing with it as a family'?​
Deputy minister Reginah Mhaule

“We don’t deny services to boys coming forward to say they want access to services. We provide testing for HIV and condom distribution for boys when they come and ask for them,” he said.

The programme is being offered in districts with a high prevalence of HIV/Aids and teen pregnancies.

“Schools are being encouraged to report pregnancy, particularly those involving children under 14, because that’s rape.”

Whittle said there was a direct link between HIV acquisition and falling pregnant.

The deputy minister of basic education, Reginah Mhaule, told parliament that teenage pregnancy was a societal matter.

“We are responsible for these learners eight hours a day. All the other hours they are at home and most of the time they get pregnant in the society, not at school.”

She said the statistics indicated that “most of these young girls are impregnated at home ... by relatives, by their biological fathers, stepfathers and uncles”.

“We can come up with mechanisms of fighting HIV but of fighting pregnancy it may not be easy, because even if you can teach them at that age to condomise, but at home a girl cannot condomise, it’s only a man.”

Mhaule spoke of her recollection of a conversation with home affairs minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, who said “it was only a man who can condomise”.

“There is a thing called a woman condom but it’s only the man who decides whether the woman should put that condom on or not ... They manufacture the woman condoms but you must use it at the consent of a man.”

She said teenage pregnancy had to do with the “moral decay” in society and dealing with it must include all sectors and be led by “leaders in the society itself”.

She also mentioned that the biological mother of the child who had fallen pregnant is also often silent when her child is impregnated by the biological father or a relative.

“Even if you want to go and open a case, how are you going to open it if the mother says, ‘We are dealing with it as a family'?” ​