The Department of Basic Education (DBE) has introduced a new policy which will prohibit schools from excluding or expelling pregnant pupils, while making it compulsory to report cases of statutory rape to police.
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga last week gazetted the department’s policy on the prevention and management of pregnancy in schools.
The policy states that the rate of pregnancies in schools have become a “major challenge” for national development and the basic education system, prompting the new regulations.
“We are trying to protect the girls themselves because we know that they need support once they fall pregnant. They need financial support, medical support, but also in terms of their school work,” DBE spokesperson, Elijah Mhlanga told eNCA on Tuesday.
Here are the main parts of the policy:
Right to remain in school
The policy, among other things, prohibits schools from kicking out pupils as a result of their pregnancy.
“Specifically, this policy affirms the right of a pregnant learner to remain in school during her pregnancy and to return as soon after giving birth as is appropriate for both the learner and her child.
“For its part, the school is required to reasonably accommodate the learner to ensure that her right to education is not disrupted or ended by pregnancy or the birth of her child,” the document reads.
Schools will also be required to assist the pregnant pupils to continue with their education during and after pregnancy.
They must also be flexible in dealing with the absence of a pregnant pupil or after she has given birth, “provided only that the pupil is not taking off a disproportionate amount of time”.
Pupils are required to provide a medical certificate stating that they are fit to attend classes.
“To facilitate the application of these rights, pupils who are over six months pregnant will be required to submit a medical certificate indicating the status of their pregnancy and estimated delivery date.
“In addition, the pregnant pupil will be asked to provide medical reports to her appointed educator or school principal, certifying that it is safe for her to continue with her schooling, if she wishes to stay in school beyond eight months of pregnancy.”
However, a pupil may be asked to take a leave of absence if they fail to provide the certificate until they have done so.
“Medical information provided by the pupil to her educator or the principal shall be strictly confidential to protect the pupil’s right to privacy,” the policy further states.
In terms of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act of 2007, the age of consent for both boys and girls is 16.
So, if an underage girl falls pregnant by a person who is 18 years or older, it is considered as statutory raped.
Educators are prohibited from having sex with pupils regardless of whether the person was given consent by a pupil who is 16 years or older.
Reporting to the police
Under the policy, it states that schools will have report to the South African Police Service (Sars) for civil and criminal proceedings if a pregnant girl is under the age of 16 and the father of the child is older than 16.
It further says that “attention” needs to be paid to the father when a pupil falls pregnant and that civil and criminal proceedings will have to be followed against educators or others.
“On confirmation of the biological father’s identity, if he is a learner, he should be counselled and guided to assume and sustain his rights and responsibilities.
“If, however, he is an educator or other member of staff within the basic education system, he should be suspended and subjected to disciplinary and legal procedures as set out in the Employment of Educators Act, 1998 (Act No. 76 of 1998) and the South African Council for Educators Act, 2000 (Act No. 31 of 2000).
“If the biological father is a person outside the basic education system, he too should be subjected to judicial enquiry and action if there is a case to answer on the grounds of coercion, sexual violence and assault or statutory rape.”