With some 82 000 learners between the ages of 14 and 19 having fallen pregnant in 2017 alone, South Africa is pinning its hopes on a social and behaviour change campaign to curb early and unplanned teen pregnancies.
Aptly known as "Let's Talk", the campaign is implemented across 21 countries in the Eastern and Southern Africa region, which has one of the highest adolescent fertility rates in the world.
The campaign is driven by multiple factors which include poverty, lack of information and access to reproductive health services, cultural norms, peer pressure, sexual coercion and abuse.
A United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) situational analysis reported that in some countries, up to 95% of young girls drop out of school after pregnancy.
On Wednesday, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga launched the campaign in Gauteng. The timing has never been more urgent. Teen pregnancy impacts negatively on educational opportunities and the achievement of adolescents - a situation South Africa can ill afford, given the tough economic climate domestically and abroad.
In South Africa, it is reported that up to one-third of young girls who fall pregnant drop out of school.
"Teens who become pregnant are at a greater risk for health complications and face a host of challenges to remaining in school and achieving educational milestones.
"Teen pregnancy impacts on education [outcomes]. Unfortunately, this scourge disproportionately affects girls from lower socio-economic communities, thus adding on their burden," Motshekga said.
The Minister said factors that influence teen birth rates are dynamic and hotly debated, as is the appropriate response by the education sector to educating teens who become pregnant and teen mothers.
"We hope to share and learn from other countries on how to address this stubborn challenge. We need a coordinated and cohesive effort to accelerate progress in the prevention and management of early and unintended pregnancies (EUP).
"As the education sector, we are especially apprehensive of the resultant high drop-out rates from school by young girls who experience unplanned and early pregnancies," Motshekga said.
Unesco Regional Director Remmy Shawa said while girls should be taught about pregnancy, boys should not be left out of the equation.
"Early pregnancy has consequences on the lives of young girls. They face shame from their communities and miss out on education... Let us not forget that boys are part of the problem and that they are also part of the solution."
Shawa called on the education sector in Africa to respond speedily to the crisis facing young girls. Part of the solution, he said, is giving girls access to health services.
Regional Director of United Nations Fund for Population Activities, Julitta Onabanjo, said action must be taken urgently to prevent teen pregnancies. She stressed that governments must make the commitment to take action and follow through.