Learner pregnancy prevention policy forgets about the 'learner' part

31 July 2018 - 11:21 By Bekezela Phakathi
The Equal Education Law Centre and Section27 say the draft policy on pupil pregnancy falls short.
The Equal Education Law Centre and Section27 say the draft policy on pupil pregnancy falls short.

The Prevention and Management of Learner Pregnancy in Schools draft policy has been sharply criticised for failing to emphasise the right of pupils‚ including those who are pregnant‚ to access basic education.

Earlier in 2018‚ the Department of Basic Education issued a gazette in which it invited comments from stakeholder bodies and members of the public on the proposed policy. The final day for commenting is Tuesday. According to the department‚ the rate of pupil pregnancy in SA has become a major “social‚ systemic and fiscal challenge not only for the basic education sector but‚ crucially‚ for the national development in general.”

“It impacts the lives of many young people‚ often limiting their personal growth‚ the pursuit of rewarding careers and their ambitions with incalculable impact on the country’s socio-economic systems‚” the department said.

In the draft policy the department sets outs its goals‚ guiding principles and policy themes to stabilise and reduce the incidence of pupil pregnancy and its adverse effects on the education system.

Among others‚ the policy seeks to ensure the accessible provision of information on prevention; choice of termination of pregnancy; care‚ counselling and support. It commits the basic education system and other role players to providing comprehensive sexuality education to ensure that young people gain the knowledge and skills to make “conscious‚ healthy and respectful choices about relationships and sexuality”.

However‚ according to the Equal Education Law Centre and Section27‚ the draft policy falls short.

“[The draft policy] fails to frame itself with the right of learners‚ including pregnant learners‚ to access basic education‚ and the state’s duty to protect this right‚ at its centre.

"Rather the draft policy seems to emphasise the impact of learner pregnancy on government planning and national development. This can be seen‚ for example‚ in the policy’s failure to outline measures to be taken during pregnancy and after delivery to ensure that learners return to school‚” the two groups said in their submission to the department.

Furthermore‚ the groups stated‚ the draft policy was inconsistent regarding who is eligible to access pregnancy prevention services‚ comprehensive sexual education‚ and sexual reproductive health services.

“In particular‚ in some places in the draft policy access to CSE [comprehensive sexual education] and SRHS [sexual reproductive health services] is limited by age and in others it is provided without limitation. This results in internal inconsistencies which are further perpetuated by vague‚ undefined phrases‚ such as that the right of access extends to all learners ‘from the end of the primary phase’‚ or that access to condoms is dependent on the ‘level of inquiry or need’.”

The groups added that there was also ambiguity in the provisions relating to ensuring the pregnant pupil’s access to education‚ the reasonable accommodation of pregnant pupils and what “reasonable” accommodation means‚ and the factors to be considered for a pupil’s return to and retention in school after giving birth.

“Our key recommendations therefore call for the department to frame the draft policy in terms of the rights of learners to access basic education; provide greater clarity on what reasonable accommodation means and make provision for the return of learners after delivery; include the protection of the rights of learner fathers; and include clear mechanisms through which learners can report abuses and appeal decisions.”

Department spokesman Elijah Mhlanga said the policy “asserts the Constitutional rights of pregnant learners to continue and complete their basic education without stigma or discrimination.” He said all comments will be taken into consideration for the final draft of the policy.

- BusinessLIVE