MMA is concerned about two stories in The Star newspaper: “Pregnancy rife at Limpopo School”(The Star, 25/01/2010, p.5) and “Sitting around, waiting to help people to give birth” (The Star, 26/01/2010, p.3).  The stories indirectly identified the pupils, focused entirely on the behaviour of the pregnant pupils, failed to examine the roles of the boys and men involved, or to examine what can be done to address this issue. Hence we have given them a MAD.

Both of the stories violated the rights of the pregnant pupils and failed to protect them from stigmatisation in their communities by indirectly identifying them. The stories named the school that these pupils go to, a parent whose child made one of the girls pregnant, and a parent whose daughter is pregnant. This violated the ethical principal enshrined in Section 28(2) of the Bill of Rights of the Constitution that “the child’s best interests are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child.”

“Everyone in this village wants to become pregnant so they can get the government grant” said a parent. The accusation that young girls get pregnant for grants is often mentioned as a reason for teenage pregnancies, however there has been research that suggests this is not an accurate assumption. Research by Human Science Research Council, found no relationship between teenage fertility and Child Support Grant. It found that only 20% of teens who bear children are the beneficiaries of the Child Social Grant. Generalising about the cause of the pregnancy is a huge problem as it may lead to the stigmatisation of the pupils. The story ignored the other issues that may have contributed to this situation, and suggested that the female children intentionally became pregnant to take advantage of the welfare grants system. This suggestion is neither fair, nor based on fact.

The journalists also failed to explore the pregnancy issue further by failing to interview pregnant pupils about the reasons they fell pregnant.  They relied instead on a parent’s and teacher’s opinion.

In “Sitting around, waiting to help people to give birth” the journalist accessed a pregnant pupil, and protected her identity. This is an only place in the stories where it mentions boys or speaks of the boys’ behaviour. The Journalist should have explored these issues further and should have accessed the boys.

Both stories have failed to provide the information that can be used to help find solutions to pregnancies in schools and instead dedicated more time to negatively portraying the girls involved.

The Star should be commended for blurring the face of the pregnant pupil on the photography published alongside the article “Sitting around, waiting to help people to give birth.” It clearly showed that they newspaper was aware that it was not in the best interests of this girl to be identified.  However, in the same way that naming the parent of a pregnant child indirectly identifies that child, a second photograph that showed the mothers and relatives of the pregnant children at the school also indirectly identified those girls and should not have been published.

An opinion column “Mum’s the word on teenage mums” (The Star, 28/01/2011, p.16) by the Deputy Editor of The Star, Jovial Rantao questioned the silence from authorities about the issue of teenage pregnancy, including from the Department of Basic Education. It is to be praised for seeking to hold unions, departments and ministers responsible for addressing the situation. However there are also two issues of concern in this editorial. The first is the suggestion that these girls should be prosecuted, which is also mentioned in “Pregnancy rife at Limpopo School,” and the second is that Jovial Rantao also seems to blame the grant system. Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) feels strongly that to suggest that the girls be prosecuted is not a solution to the problem. Neither is blaming the Child Social Grant for the girls pregnancy, as Human Science Research Council research shows.

If an issue like teen pregnancies in rural areas is to be effectively addressed, news organisations have a duty to explore and report on the wider issues involved. For failing to do this The Star gets a MAD.