Too frequently, news stories on the subject of teenage pregnancy in South Africa tend to be a compilation of statistics, punctuated by quotes from disappointed-sounding teachers and parents, and occasionally the voices of the young expectant mothers, and almost never that of the fathers.
Challenging this standard template for reporting on teen pregnancies is The New Age’s article“Teen mom cautions her peers” (04/07/2013, p. 8) by Omphemetse Molopyane, which dedicated a large portion of its print space to voice Kutlwano Moepeng’s experiences as a teen mother to her son Ditshegofatso. For this reason and others outlined below, the article has been nominated for aGLAD.
Other than the prominence of Moepeng’s storytelling, what makes the article different is that the mother is depicted as mature, responsible and determined, contrary to the commonly naïve, blame-ridden and victim-like portrayal of teenage mothers. Moepeng also speaks honestly about the stigma and challenges of teenage motherhood, and extends her advice to other young women, fostering equal dialogue and a sense of understanding and solidarity between one teenage mother and others.
“Being pregnant was the most difficult situation I found myself in. I felt ashamed and judged by the people around me. It was hard for me to go outside because of the way people treated and looked at me. I was looked at with eyes of shame. […] As time went by I knew I had to move on and stop feeling sorry for myself. I was sick and tired of crying myself to sleep every night. I had a pregnancy to deal with and homework as well because even though I was pregnant, my family made it clear that I would go to school with the pregnancy; no dropping out.”
Importantly, but not to the extent that it dominates the story, the article also references research and statistical evidence of the high rates of teenage pregnancy, as well as some of the primary causes behind it. For example the article makes a crucial connection between the “exchange [of] unprotected sex for money and gifts from men who at times have a history of multiple relationships” and how it puts young women at risk of not only pregnancy but also HIV infection.
Although Omphemetse Molopyane may have had legitimate reasons for not accessing the father of Moepeng’s son, we strongly encourage journalists to access fathers whenever possible. Doing so takes away some of the stigma often placed solely on teenage mothers and shifts the responsibility of the pregnancy onto both parents. Media Monitoring Africa’s current research into portrayals of masculinity in South African media has found that young men and fathers would like to see their voices included in such stories, alongside those of teenage mothers.
Overall the article is a step in the right direction and one of example to future stories on teenage pregnancy, where young mothers and fathers are given a strong voice to tell their stories of everyday reality, and ways in which they are confronting teenage parenthood, void of victimisation and stigma.
In response to the commentary, The New Age’s journalist, Omphemetse Molopyane said:
“I agree that we should also focus on teen fathers because they play a role as well. It is something that I will look into.”