I was impressed and encouraged when I heard Miss South Africa 2011, Bokang Montjane, being interviewed about teen pregnancy in South Africa. Her interest and commitment to being involved in this vital issue is a ray of hope for the future of so many girls and women in this country. There are so many reasons that prevention of teen pregnancy should be the focus of much more education and research.
When girls have babies before they become women, they often deprive themselves of the opportunity to be free and empowered. The extra responsibilities and commitments of motherhood and the emotional strain this involves makes it difficult for young moms to educate themselves further, to work on their careers and to travel and experience life. Teen pregnancy perpetuates the cycle of poverty, dependency and disempowerment. We have moved out of an era when a woman’s sole purpose was to bear children and if this proved fruitless she was cast aside, her usefulness to society having been shown to be nothing. Times have changed and women have the opportunity now to be equal partners with men.
Girls who become mothers before having grown up themselves place themselves in a precarious position emotionally. According to British psychoanalyst, author and perinatal expert, Joan Raphael Leff, teen moms are three times more likely than older moms to experience postnatal depression. In addition to my concern about the mental state and the future of young moms, I worry about their babies as well. Teen moms are often not in the position psychologically to give their babies what they need in order to grow into emotionally secure children and adults. But I do realize that researchers need to go sociologically and psychologically deeper when trying to encourage teens not to fall pregnant. Sometimes these pregnancies are not unplanned. I hope that researchers and students will put time and energy into exploring and investigating what drives girls to have babies before they are really ready. I suspect a big motivation for these girls could be the wish to love and be loved.