Most teenage girls in South Africa start having sex to prove their love to their boyfriends. This is according to new research presented by Neloufar Khan from the Department of Social Development at the Carnegie III conference which took place in Cape Town last week.
"Baby, you're not faithful. You don't trust me." According to Khan this is the phrase men use to coax young girls into having sex with them. Carnegie III was held at the University of Cape Town and presenters focused on strategies to overcome poverty and inequality.
"The fact that girls place their health and welfare second to the needs of their boyfriends is proof of the gender inequality in these communities," Khan said.
She presented preliminary results of an ongoing study by the National Population Unit. The researchers look at communities in five provinces (KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and Gauteng) where they interviewed 1 417 young mothers between the ages of 13 and 18; 704 social service providers; and also had focus groups with boys and girls between the ages of 13 and 18, parents and other members of the community.
They found that most girls had sex for the first time before the age of 16 - which is the legal age of consent - and except for Mpumalanga and Gauteng, a large majority of the girls also fell pregnant for the first time before the age of 16. The average age of sexual debut was lowest in the Eastern Cape with an age of 14.1 years, followed by Gauteng with 14.2 years.
It was also found that many girls had started having sex in an attempt to receive love and attention. "This shows that in a lot of cases girls don't receive enough love and affirmation in the home," said Khan. "This points to the fragmented and fragile psychological state of mind of young girls, and can predispose them to vulnerability and exploitative sexual relations under the fallacy of being loved."
The research also revealed that over 60 percent of girls didn't know they had the right to terminate their pregnancy, and even fewer knew that emergency contraception was available and could be used to prevent pregnancy.
The service providers (nurses, teachers and government officials) interviewed thought that most teenage girls fall pregnant due to peer pressure and low self-esteem and felt that family stress and other household issues have an impact on a girl's sexual activity.