An exploratory study of experiences of parenting among a group of school-going adolescent mothers in a South African township


Sisa Ngabaza
Departmenal Chair and Associate Professor (Convenor of WGS 211 Gender in SA politics & culture; Convenor of WGS 311 Gender & Development and Co-Convenor of WGS 321 Research Project)


Gendered experiences, motherhood, adolescent pregnancy, learners, schooling, Khayelitsha, feminist qualitative methodology, life history narratives, interviews, narrative thematic analysis


Adolescent pregnancy and motherhood have been given considerable attention in the South African education system. Before 1994 pregnant adolescents were expelled from school (as the policy then stipulated) until they delivered their babies. With the adoption of new national legislation, current policies, the South African Schools Act no 84 of 1996, and the Department of Education 2007 policy on management of learner pregnancy in schools emphasise that equal education must be provided for all learners, thus abolishing the exclusion of pregnant learners from mainstream education. Although pregnant learners have
been retained in schools, a handful of studies reveal that schools’ management of pregnant learners is fraught with inconsistencies. This study explored adolescent girls’ subjective experiences of being young mothers in school, focusing on their personal and interpersonal relationships within their social contexts. Participants included 15 young black mothers aged
between 16 and 19 years from three high schools in Khayelitsha, Cape Town. Conducted within a feminist social constructionist framework, the study adopted an exploratory qualitative structure. Data were collected through life histories that were analysed within a thematic narrative framework. The narratives revealed that the young mothers found motherhood challenging and overly disruptive of school. Although contexts of childcare emerged as pivotal in how young mothers balanced motherhood and schoolwork, these were also presented as characterised by notions of power and control. Because of the gendered nature of care work, the women who supported the young mothers with childcare dominated the mothering spheres. The schools were also experienced as controlled and regulated by authorities in ways that constrained the young mothers’ balancing of school and parenting. Equally constraining to a number of adolescent mothers were structural challenges, for example, parenting in spaces that lacked resources. These challenges were compounded by the immense stigma attached to adolescent motherhood. The study recommended that the Department of Education work closely with all the parties concerned in ensuring that pregnant learners benefit from the policy. It is necessary that educators are encouraged to shift attitudes so that communication with adolescent mothers is improved.


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June 22, 2023


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