South Africa: Early Prevention Programmes Needed to Curb Statutory Rape

20 September 2021

Early prevention programmes, overcoming social norms and consistent conversations around consent and sexual activity were some of the important measures recommended during a webinar on social behaviour change to reduce risky sexual behaviour among the youth and create awareness on the prevention of statutory rape.

The Webinar was hosted on Friday by Government Communication and Information System in partnership with the Agape Youth Movement.

Addressing the webinar, Dr Kim Jonas - Specialist Scientist at South African Medical Research Council said that the country needs to start early on in life with prevention and educational programmes along with having conversations about sexual activity.

"Educational and prevention campaigns need to start early in adolescence instead of waiting for the girl or boy child to turn the age of sixteen. We need to engage boys and young men as early as possible. They also need to get the education and awareness on the rights of young women and girls, the rights of their potential victims. They need to be taught what no means. We have to deal with cultural and social norms in a much broader context."

Jonas added that if we want to change social norms, cultural norms and uncomfortable cultural practices, people need to involve everyone in the community.

Language factor

Speaking on statutory rape and consent, Nkeletseng Tsetsane from MB Teens Lifestyle said that the language factor is very important in addressing issues of rape.

"The sooner we term issues correctly the sooner we know exactly what is it we are dealing with and come with interventions to address exactly that. In a country where the age of consent is sixteen, anything under the age of 16 is statutory rape and should not be reported as teen pregnancy but rape," Tsetsane said.

Tsetsane said that one of the critical issues that need to be addressed is the lack of responsibility from parents when it comes to reporting such cases.

"Parents just do not report cases... to address this issue everybody has a role to play. The adolescent girls are given an opportunity to report but they just don't report, so this needs all hands on deck... It's a plea for us to become safe spaces for young girls and boys, let's stop looking the other way. When you see a 10-year-old pregnant it instantly becomes your business," Tsetsane said.

Tsetsane added that social norms are problematic as they constantly put the burden of prevention and staying safe on the girl child. She said that it is an issue that instead of teaching boys not to rape, they should teach the girl child how to not get raped.

"I work with a lot of young ex-offenders and most of them do not understand the concept of consent, that it is an ongoing conversation. There is a critical need for consistent consent conversations", Tsetsane said.

Investigating statutory rape cases

Colonel Phumzile Zulu, Section Commanders at SAPS Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Investigations Unit said that they are experiencing issues with investigating statutory rape cases because family members and victims are afraid to report such cases.

"We have a lot of statutory rape cases reported to us but the cases are being withdrawn because victims or witnesses have become hostile, they do not want to cooperate and continue with the case. During our analysis we saw that this happens due to family pressure due to the perpetrators mostly being family members... We are all obligated to report these cases. Family and community members are failing young girls," Zulu said.

Zulu said that the police are doing their level best to work with communities and families on these cases.

"We have a dual role as a unit, we do pro-action campaigns where we conduct awareness campaign, sharing frustrations with community and giving them information on where they can go when they deal with such matters," she said.

Teenage pregnancy during COVID-19 pandemic in SA

Research done by the South African Medical Research Council has revealed that teenage pregnancy remains a global problem and is relatively high in South Africa at 16% prevalence rate with 19% in the rural areas and 11% in the urban areas.

Dr Kim Jonas said that there was a high rate of pregnancy among the adolescent girls included in their research and most of these pregnancies (70%) were not planned or wanted at the time.

Jonas highlighted that contributing factors to teenage pregnancy include violence against women and girls and sexual abuse.

She said that most of the pregnancies under the age of sixteen are due to rape.

"Our research has shown that contraceptive educational programmes to inform girls are not widely available... the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown made it more difficult than usual to access contraception services by adolescent girls and young women. Another barrier is the lack of parental support and partner's support to use contraceptives and young people not experiencing the services at clinics as youth friendly," Jonas said.

A recent report showed that girls, as young as 10-years-old are among the 23 226 girls who fell pregnant in Gauteng between April 2020 and March 2021.

According to the report, 934 babies were delivered by girls between the ages of 10 and 14, while over 19 000 were delivered by those between the ages of 15 and 19 years.

The report also noted that nearly 3 000 girls between the ages of 10 and 19 chose to terminate their pregnancies.

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