Understanding teenage pregnancy in a post-apartheid South African township

Cult Health Sex. 2010 May;12(4):347-58. doi: 10.1080/13691050903491779.


Although South Africa's total fertility rate is one of the lowest in sub-Saharan Africa, high rates of early childbearing remain a concern. Most teenage pregnancies occur among poor black and coloured South Africans. The majority of these pregnancies are said to be unwanted and unplanned and the teenager's relationships, unstable. Becoming a mother during one's teenage years is perceived to be socially, economically and physically deleterious for the teenager and her baby. This paper presents ethnographic data collected over a five-year period in the South African township of Nyanga East in the Western Cape. It draws attention to the circumstances that surround teenage pregnancy and discusses reactions to teenage pregnancies in this community. Findings highlight that despite the negative perception of teenage pregnancy within the township, particular social and cultural circumstances provided fertile ground for its occurrence. Furthermore, the paper argues that in this particular community the management of a teenage pregnancy played a functional and critical role in maintaining and reproducing social norms and ideals regarding intergenerational relationships, which ultimately ensured that the rates of early childbearing remained high.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior
  • Anthropology, Cultural
  • Culture*
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy in Adolescence / statistics & numerical data*
  • Prejudice
  • Residence Characteristics*
  • Risk Factors
  • Sexuality / statistics & numerical data*
  • Social Perception*
  • South Africa
  • Time Factors