This post requires even more mental energy than yesterday’s one.
A few things you have to know first.
The life that many of us lead – safe, comfortable with people who love us, a roof over our heads and food in the fridge – is NOT the life that many young girls have in South Africa. Their circumstances are completely unlike yours. For many, it’s a case of day-to-day survival. A vague idea of “the future” is a luxury that she cannot afford.
It’s about TODAY, making things work in the ways that are available to her. So any logic that YOU might want to apply to a planned teen pregnancy – does not work for her. In the long run, yes, your logic works better. But there IS NO LONG RUN for a girl who doesn’t have school shoes, sanitary pads, breakfast, parents who care, or a way to see a possibility of a better life.
It takes a certain type of person to live through that and emerge unscathed. Most of us reading this have never been tested in this way. Most of us are probably NOT that certain type of person. She has to live the life she’s been given.
So! On to the reasons why girls get pregnant on purpose.
1. Emotional reasons: she wants somebody to love. She needs to feel unconditional love (who doesn’t?) and a baby will provide that. Yes, having a child as a teenager comes with countless complications. But she’s right. A child WILL love her in the way that she needs – but it’s not the child’s job, and if she can’t provide for that child, emotionally / practically, then the cycle starts all over again. Her family should have provided that love. If they had, there would not have been a gap that needed to be filled.
How do we fix it: by fixing families. By building stronger, happier families who truly know what unconditional love is about, and parents who understand their responsibilities towards their children: not just financial or disciplinary – but emotional. Young Mom Support is trying to do that, by reaching those young moms- building their confidence and capacity to love and nurture their children, showing them what a parent’s REAL job is – we’re effectively reaching two generations at once.
2. Financial reasons: among the biggest myths about teen pregnancy is that the girls are all after the child support grant. This might be true in some cases. In my experience, most of the teen moms i know are NOT receiving the grant, for many reasons (R300 a month not worth the amount of red tape / travel expenses it takes to get it). Of course, there will be some who DID get pregnant for exactly that reason. You still have to divide that group up into 2: the ones who want R300 a month to party, while granny raises baby, and the ones who are so desperate for any money at all – to survive – that R300 a month to cover the entire family’s expenses seems like a viable option.
How do we fix it: oh, that’s an easy one! Just eradicate poverty! Quick, on our lunch break. Seriously though, this will take generations, huge changes in the way our world works, and people who are willing to do it. So – not in a hurry, basically.
3. Relationship reasons: goes along with the two reasons above: if there’s a baby, the boyfriend might stick around to love me, OR boyfriend might be forced into supporting me financially. Both reasons suck, both reasons don’t work.
How do we fix it: fix the two things above. THEN – make sure girls know what a healthy relationship looks like. Make sure our boys are offering that sort of healthy relationship. Make sure both boys and girls are aware that relationships ought to be built on love, trust, sharing. And that no relationship based on deception or power will ever work. If they’ve never seen that in practice, how will they know?
4. I just want a different life: this one is hard. Some girls have it tough, for all the reasons mentioned above. Having a child will always change your life, and often (if you do it right), it can be for the better. Parenthood often changes the way we view ourselves, the way others view us, and seems to move us out of the “rut” we find ourselves in. Even girls who don’t have the above issues in their lives can struggle with figuring out where they fit. What is their life for? What are they doing here? It’s a normal question that all normal teenagers ask themselves – it’s a path to growing up. Sometimes the answer is easily found, sometimes it’s not.
How do we fix it: this one is so often neglected. Not many people even consider it. But it’s a valid situation that many people find themselves in. Parents, teachers – everyone who has contact with teenagers, need to realise that this isn’t just a “teen-angst” drama queen thing that can be ignored. Feeling lost and needing change happens to most of us at some point. It’s real. Recognise it when you see it, and try to help her find her way.
5. Partner wants a baby: this one happens most often when the power dynamics are skewed in a relationship. Often there’s a big age gap – he’s much older than her. He supports her financially, he wants a child – for whatever reason (sometimes as a way of tying her to him permanently). She doesn’t feel like she can say no. Maybe she has nowhere else to go.
How do we fix it: the screwed up relationships between men and women need to fixed. NOTHING will ever get sorted until this is done. All of us can do it, by examining our own beliefs about the place of men and women. Culture is not an excuse. Cultures are made out of people. People can change their minds. So can cultures.
Please, spare me with the LET’S EMPOWER WOMEN malarkey. It doesn’t work in isolation. We’ve been trying to empower women for 100 years – and while there has been progress, let’s not pretend we’re anywhere near done. Until men (and the women who buy into the crap) change their minds about how things should work – every single one of those GIRL CHILD projects is pretty much useless.
Depressed now? You should be.
Anyway – these are only my thoughts on why girls get pregnant on purpose. As I’ve said, everybody has a different reason or bunch of reasons. Most of the reasons I’ve mentioned above relate to SURVIVING IN THE WORLD AS IT IS TODAY
Does that sound, really, like it can be solved by telling girls to “keep their legs closed”?