In some ways, the high school girls at the Pretoria Hospital School seem like many other girls their age.
But there is a major difference -- most of them will become mothers by the end of this year.
South African researchers say about 30 percent of girls in the country become pregnant by the time they are 19 years old. Only one-third of these girls stay in school while they are pregnant or after their babies are born.
The Pretoria Hospital School is the only school in South Africa with a special division for pregnant girls. One hundred pregnant girls are currently taking classes there. Most were forced to leave traditional schools because of peoples’ treatment of them.
“I thought they would judge me, and that’s why I left. When I was at grade 9, there was a girl in grade 10 who got pregnant. When we walked through the halls, girls would go like, ‘Look, she was pregnant, she’s pregnant!’ So that’s why also I didn’t want to stay, 'cause I know what the people think -- and they judge easily.”
Sometimes South African schools expel pregnant girls, although the action violates the law. Many pregnant teenagers never finish their secondary education. More than 30 percent of students leave high school without finishing because of pregnancy.
Dorothy came close to being in that group. She was expelled from school when she got pregnant. She spent months at home searching for another school that would accept her. She arrived at Pretoria Hospital School earlier this year and praises the environment.
"I began to feel welcome and not discriminated against, and it was, it was lovely, because we could all share about the same thing -- no one was going to judge you. They are all mothers, we share the same pain, the same joys and, yes, the teachers don’t constantly tell us about what a bad deed we do, we did, and they support us.”
School principal Rina Van Niekerk says it is most important to raise every student to the correct educational level and keep them there.
“There's no cutoff date for them to enroll at our school. So you will find that learners land up with you in the 3rd term of the year. But they're behind the work schedule that we are following. So you need to get those girls on par with the rest of the girls. Another challenge that we have is high absenteeism rates amongst the girls.”
She noted that the girls also often miss school because of health problems linked to pregnancy.
Pretoria Hospital School opened the program for pregnant teenagers in the middle 1980s. It remains the only such school in South Africa.
This story was reported by Emilie Iob in Pretoria, South Africa. It was adapted by Jeri Watson, who also narrated the report. It was edited and produced by Christopher Cruise.
Words in the News
poverty - n., lack of enough money to provide for life’s basic needs including shelter and food
major - adj., very important, large in number, amount or extent, very serious or bad
miss - v., to fail to reach, catch or gain something
schedule - n., a plan of things that will be done and the times when they will be done
deed - n., something that is done, an act or action