FACT CHECK: SA teen pregnancies not increasing as BBC claims

Researched by Liesl Pretorius

There is no evidence that teenage pregnancies in Africa are rising. Is the situation in South Africa any different?

After Africa Check fact-checked a BBC.com headline earlier this year - which read "Why are teenage pregnancy rising in Africa?" - the British news organisation changed it to "Why are teenage pregnancies rising in South Africa?"

We set out to determine if the new headline passed muster.


Statistics South Africa's latest data on teenage pregnancies, shows a "fairly stable" trend, according to Dr Isabelle Schmidt, the agency's chief director of social statistics.

The agency asks: "Has any female household member been pregnant during the past 12 months?" in its annual general household survey. The percentages indicate the proportion of 15-19-year-olds who had been pregnant in the preceding year:

Said Schmidt: "When I look at the long-term trends between 2009 and 2014, I would say that overall it has remained fairly stable albeit with some fluctuations from year to year. However, there was a slight decline between 2013 and 2014."

There is a chance that the data is an underestimate, though. Senior researcher at the Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit (Saldru), Dr Nicola Branson, told Africa Check that "pregnancies that do not end in live births are underreported in national household surveys where this is not the focus."


A 2013 review of teenage pregnancy in South Africa, authored by Samantha Willan, notes a "slow decline in teenage pregnancy since the 1980s". This is based on data from South Africa's Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), which are nationally representative household surveys.

The proportion of women aged 19 who had ever been pregnant dropped from 35.1% to 27.1% between the two latest South African DHSes ( 1998 and 2003).

Professor Rachel Jewkes, co-author of the 2009 paper cited in Willan's review as the source of the claim about the decline in the teen pregnancy rate since the 1980s, told Africa Check new national demographic data with age at first pregnancy and birth had not been collected since 2003 and therefore there is "no evidence of an increase" since then.

Willan, capacity development manager of the What Works to Prevent Violence against Women and Girls programme, attributes the "slight decline" to a strong women's rights sector. She told Africa Check: "There has been a lot more conversation and openness around reproductive health and sexuality."

Why hasn't there been a bigger decrease? Willan said South Africa is not yet dealing with "the fundamental stuff": inequality, poverty and gender-based violence, which remains the context within which policies and interventions are being implemented.


By changing their headline to imply that teen pregnancies are rising in South Africa the BBC once again got it wrong.

The proportion of 15-19-year-olds who had been pregnant in the year preceding a number of household surveys in South Africa (2009 to 2014) has been "fairly stable", Statistics South Africa said.

Data from South Africa's Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) shows that teenage pregnancy has been on the decline from the 1980s to 2003. As a new survey has not been conducted since 2003, "there is no evidence of an increase" in teenage pregnancy after 2003, an expert told Africa Check.

The BBC.com headline therefore needs to be corrected once again.

This article appeared on AfricaCheck.org, a non-partisan organisation which promotes accuracy in public debate and the media. Follow them on Twitter: @AfricaCheck