South Africa’s total fertility rate is estimated to be one of the lowest in sub-Saharan Africa, less than 3.0 births per woman nationally and declining. At the same time, adolescent childbearing levels remain high more than 30 percent of 19-year-old girls are reported to have given birth at least once. Using evidence from focus groups conducted in urban and rural areas in South Africa with young black women and men, and with the parents of teenage mothers, we consider the experience of early parenthood. Specifically, the analysis explores four aspects of teenage childbearing as it relates to key transitions into adulthood: the advent of a pregnancy and the decision to terminate or carry the pregnancy to term; the conditions under which “damages” (a fine for the boy’s behavior that also effectively assigns paternity even if no marriage follows) are denied, paid, or refused; the impact of early childbearing on school, work, and marriage; and consequences of premarital childbearing on future relationships, including subsequent fertility. We find that in South Africa, in contrast to many other settings, teenage mothers may return to school once they have given birth and that this opportunity is strongly related to a long delay before the birth of a second child. Education is also strongly associated with the valuation of brideprice: girls who are better educated bring a higher price, which may encourage parents to support their daughters’ schooling, and perhaps also their return to school following early pregnancy and childbirth. Babies born to teenage parents are extremely vulnerable. Because the baby is usually born premaritally and subsequent marriage between mother and father is uncommon, the support and maintenance of the child are subject to paternal recognition and commitment. The presence of a baby also generally means a lower brideprice for a future marriage; first-born children are sometimes kept secret from prospective grooms to maintain higher brideprice.
Kaufman, Carol E., Thea de Wet, and Jonathan Stadler. 2000. "Adolescent pregnancy and parenthood in South Africa," Policy Research Division Working Paper no. 136. New York: Population Council. Version of record: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1728-4465.2001.00147.x