Empowering teenagers to prevent pregnancy: lessons from South Africa

Cult Health Sex. 2009 Oct;11(7):675-88. doi: 10.1080/13691050902846452.


Reducing rates of teenage pregnancy is an important part of the agenda of action for meeting most of the Millenium Development Goals. South Africa has important lessons for other countries in this regard as the rate of teenage pregnancy is high but has declined very substantially over the last twenty years. The country experiences waves of moral panic about teenage pregnancy, with assertions that current problems are rooted in accepting or even encouraging the sexual appetites of young people rather than sternly disciplining them. In this paper, we argue that the key to success in teenage pregnancy reduction has been an empowering social policy agenda that has sought to work with young people, making them aware of their rights and the risks of sexual intercourse. Furthermore, family responses and education policy have greatly reduced the potential negative impact of teenage pregnancy on the lives of teenage girls. There is tremendous scope for further progress in reducing teenage pregnancy and we argue that this lies in paying more attention to issues of gender and sexuality, including the terms and conditions under which teenagers have sex. There needs to be critical reflection and engagement with men and boys on issues of masculinity, including their role in child rearing, as well as examination within families of their engagement with supporting pregnancy prevention and responses to pregnancies.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Female
  • Health Education*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Power, Psychological*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy in Adolescence*
  • Pregnancy, Unwanted
  • South Africa