June 6, 2009
CAPE TOWN, South Africa. Cape Argus reporter Leila Somadien reports that child welfare organisations and social workers are horrified at the pregnancy of a 10-year-old child from the huge coloured township of Mitchell’s Plain. Pregnancies at that early age are very rare worldwide, but when they do occur they pose a great physical danger to such young mothers, experts say.
Girls develop puberty earlier than 40 years ago
There is no known official record of any ten-year-old child ever giving birth in South Africa. And while only ten such cases were recorded by Wikipedia worldwide, girls giving birth at earlier ages are also being reported more frequently. The average age of menstruation has been dropping worldwide, especially among girls of black African origin – thus making younger girls ready for childbearing at an earlier age. Girls are starting to menstruate early and enter into puberty as early as 12.5 years old in the United States, according to a recent study released by the Journal of Adolescent Health. The study found that the average age of first menstruation declined from 13.3 years in girls born before 1920 to 12.4 years in those born in the early 1980s. And a study by the Breast Cancer Fund found that the age when puberty begins is also dropping significantly, particularly for African-American girls. In “The Falling Age of Puberty in U.S. Girls: What We Know, What We Need to Know,” the report also found that girls today develop breasts two years earlier than girls 40 years ago. The average age of developing breasts is 10 years old for white girls and 9 years old for black girls. At the age of 10, the chances that black girls will begin menstruating triples compared to Caucasian girls.
Meanwhile in Cape Town, the child’s uncle, 21, described as “baby-faced’ by the Cape Town journalist, has been charged with rape. He remains in police custody as a trial-awaiting prisoner until the baby’s birth. The prosecution is waiting for the child to give birth before the case goes ahead so they can do DNA-blood tests to determine whether he is the baby’s father.
Noreen Ramsden, spokeswoman for the Children’s Rights Centre in Durban was quoted as saying that: “She is still a baby herself. She shouldn’t be having babies of her own.” The girl is in her eighth month of pregnancy. Black-African girls often start having their first menarche at the age of ten or up. However, they usually don’t fall pregnant until they reach the age of 14 on up.
“Even if she was groomed, even if she didn’t object, it doesn’t mean she understood. She could not possibly have fully understood what was happening to her, or the implications of having sex,” said Ramsden.
Speaking generally, she said that by law, whenever an older man had sex with a girl younger than 16, it constituted rape.”Not only is it extremely traumatising for the child, it also puts her life and the life of the unborn baby at risk,” she said.
Girl kept in place of safety until the birth
Somadien reports that in the dock, the alleged father looked no older than 18, “with a baby face and shaved head”. … and as he walked down to the cells below the court, more than a dozen of his relatives and friends also left the courtroom. Outside, some were emotional. “Don’t worry,” one woman said, consoling a weeping young woman. “God is on his side.” The family declined to speak to the media. The girl, meanwhile, is being kept at a place of safety.
Cape Town Pregnancy Help Centre manager Norma Trautmann and Jubilee Health Centre manager, Rachel Lilliott, both said they had never heard of a case where a child had fallen pregnant at 10. “One in every three girls is raped in their lives, which is disturbing enough as it is,” said Lilliott. “This is heartbreaking and very upsetting. A girl can start menstruating at nine or 10, but physically, her body is not really ready to carry a baby. She would still be developing, so a case like this is not common.”
Trautmann said that the youngest pregnant girl she had ever seen in her personal experience in South Africa was 12 years old. “The youngest age where it is common for girls to be pregnant is 14. To hear that a 10-year-old is pregnant is very scary, and I wouldn’t like to think it’s a pattern,” she said. Read the rest of the article on page 12 of the Saturday Argus of Cape Town on June 06, 2009, headlined: State wants DNA test when girl, 10, gives birth.
The pregnant girl lives in one of the most dangerous, violent and drug-ridden townships in South Africa.
Mitchell’s Plain is a largely coloured township about 20 km from the city of Cape Town. It is located on the sandy floodplains called the Cape Flats on the False Bay coast between Strandfontein and Khayelitsha. Conceived of as a model township by the apartheid government, it was built during the 1970s to provide housing for coloured people under the Group Areas Act and residents could buy their homes there with registered land-registry rights. Though Mitchell’s Plain is no longer officially a “coloured African township,” the majority of residents remain overwhelmingly Coloured African.
Housing between 1.2 million – 1.9 million residents, (Cape Town city estimates are about 1.8 million), it comprises a number of sub-sections which reflect the diverse class backgrounds of the population. Roughly speaking, the western half of the mega-township (Westridge, Rocklands, Portlands) is wealthier than the eastern half (Tafelsig, Beacon Valley, Eastridge, Lentegeur). Lentegeur is one of the poorest suburbs of the mega-township. The entire Cape Flats area is infamous for gangsterism and tik addiction among the youth.