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Teachers to help with access to abortions under proposed changes to South Africa’s basic education laws? Beware misleading claims

IN SHORT: South Africa’s proposed Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill, known as the Bela bill, does not make any mention of the termination of pregnancies. So viral claims about teachers having to help facilitate access to abortion are false, though the bill does address the management of pregnancies amongst school students.

There has been mixed public reaction to South Africa’s proposed new Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill (or Bela bill). 

According to basic education minister Angie Motshekga, the bill will amend the 1996 South African Schools Act and the Employment of Educators Act of 1998 to “align them with developments in the education landscape".

In May 2022, parliament’s portfolio committee on basic education released the draft to the public for written comments. By February 2023 more than 29,000 submissions had been received, many expressing concern.

A Facebook post from June 2023, circulating in South Africa, claims teachers will have to help school children access abortions under proposed changes to the country’s basic education laws.  

Abortion is a medical procedure to end a pregnancy. 

Some shocking changes, should it be passed and implemented … they can send your 12 year old for an abortion without letting you know or telling you afterwards,” the post reads.  

Another Facebook post says: “If it were not for Marie Sukers MP, ACDP how many of us would know that the BELA Bill will grant the education minister the right to insist teachers advise children AS YOUNG AS 12 to have abortions?” 

Marie Sukers is a member of parliament for the African Christian Democratic Party, or ACDP. She appears in this video, telling the party’s 47,000 Facebook followers that the Bela bill will allow for children as young as 12 to be able to have access to abortions without their parents even knowing about it

This claim has also been made here and here

But are any of these claims that teachers will have to facilitate access to abortions for school children true?  

BelaBill_Misleading

Bela bill does not contain provision on abortions

Cecile van Schalkwyk, an attorney at human rights organisation the Legal Resources Centre, told Africa Check that the Bela bill “is silent on teachers facilitating access to abortions through comprehensive sexuality education or otherwise”.

Van Schalkwyk added that the law as it currently stands, already makes provision for a child over the age of 12 to consent to an abortion without any involvement of the parent”. 

She directed us to the Children’s Act of 2005 and the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act which provide that children over the age of 12 can consent to their own medical treatment, including abortion or “termination of pregnancy”, without parental consent. 

High prevalence of pregnancy among school children

Pregnancy is addressed in clause 41 of the Bela bill. This proposes that the minister of basic education be given the power to make regulations on the “management of learner pregnancy”. 

“There is currently a high prevalence of learner pregnancy and this bill seeks to regulate how schools need to manage those instances when they occur,” Bongiwe Mbinqo-Gigaba, the chair of the portfolio committee on education, told Africa Check.  

But she stressed that the bill was not an “abortion bill”, as she had heard it described.

The basic education department’s spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga told Africa Check that the powers the new bill could give the minister of basic education include: 

  • How to report cases of pregnant students to the relevant authorities when a girl has been impregnated by a fellow underage student.
  • How parents can help pregnant students with school work and how missing tests and examinations could be dealt with.
  • How health professionals would be involved to ensure the health of both the pregnant girl and the unborn child. This would involve compulsory visits to a health facility and the submission of medical certificates to the relevant authority.

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