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Maternity leave mooted for South African girls

A proposal that pregnant South African schoolgirls be allowed "maternity leave" has sparked heated debate in the country amid fears// that this could encourage teen pregnancies.

South Africa is under pressure to deal with the high number of teenagers who drop out of school and fail to continue their education once they become mothers. It is one of only a few countries in sub-Saharan Africa that allows pregnant girls to return to school after they give birth.

It is estimated that around 72,000 girls countrywide between the ages of 13 and 19 years stop attending school as a result of pregnancy each year. In at least one of the country's nine provinces, the number of girls who become pregnant while still at school has been seen to be increasing.

In 2004, 632 schoolgirls became pregnant at schools in the KwaZulu Natal province, compared to 887 this year, according to a survey that noted most were aged 15 or 16 years.

The idea of a "maternity leave" of about four months for pregnant schoolgirls was first mooted at a summit this month of education authorities, welfare agencies and teachers' unions in KwaZulu Natal.

The summit was called to discuss the teen pregnancy problem and formulate guidelines on dealing with pregnancies in schools.

There has since also been talk of special classes for pregnant girls where nurses could give lessons on baby care and other issues for mothers.

While some teachers' unions and some child welfare groups seem comfortable with the proposal, several political parties and a large number of ordinary South Africans seem appalled by the idea.

The National Teachers Union noted that parents were responsible for their children and that teachers did not have the necessary skills to deal with the issue of pregnancy.

Union spokesman Elium Biyela was quoted as saying that young girls in schools should not be treated differently from any other preg
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