Policy commitments vs. lived realities of young pregnant women and mothers in school, Western Cape, South Africa
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Reproductive rights in South Africa continue to be undermined for young women who fall pregnant and become mothers while still at school. Before 1994, exclusionary practices were common and the majority of those who fell pregnant failed to resume their education. With the adoption of new policies in 2007, young pregnant women and mothers are supposed to be supported to complete school successfully. Notwithstanding these new policies, there are incongruities between policy implementation and young women's lived experience in school. This paper explores the experiences of pregnancy and parenting among a group of 15 young women who fell pregnant and became mothers while attending three high schools in Khayelitsha township, a working-class community in the Western Cape of South Africa. Qualitative, in-depth interviews, conducted between 2007 and 2008, highlighted two key areas of concern: continuing exclusionary practices on the part of schools, based on conservative interpretations of policy, and negative and moralistic responses from teachers and peers. Such practices resulted in secrecy and shame about being pregnant, affecting the young women's emotional and physical well-being and their decisions whether to remain in school during pregnancy and return after having the baby. Further attention is required to ensure appropriate implementation of policies aimed at supporting pregnant and parenting young women to complete their education successfully.