In Practice

When do adolescent mothers return to school? Timing across rural and urban South Africa

J Jochim, A K Groves, L D Cluver


While adolescent mothers’ postpartum return to school offers long-term benefits, returning too early in the absence of sufficient support may impede the healthy development of their children. This study assessed the rates of adolescent mothers’ return to school in South Africa (SA) and examined how many months after birth school-aged girls resumed schooling. Two independent studies recruited 1 114 adolescent mothers in Eastern Cape Province and Durban, respectively. Across the two studies, 64.7% (n=649) and 47.8% (n=53) of mothers, respectively, had returned to school at the time of the study. Of these mothers, the majority had returned to school within the first 2 months post partum (study 1: 67.6%; n=439; and study 2: 58.5%; n=31), fewer between 2 and 6 months (16.9%; n=110; and 22.6%; n=12), and after 12 months (2.0%; n=13; and unknown). Our findings indicate a mismatch between SA’s national policy recommendations and actual return patterns, showing that a large proportion of mothers returned to school much earlier than advised. This study also highlights a particular need to amend school policies that support early-returners and their children. Additional research on the needs of mother-child dyads and studies on the impact of different timescales on educational and health outcomes are needed to further inform policy and practice regarding adolescent mothers’ return to school.

Authors' affiliations

J Jochim, Department of Social Policy and Intervention, Social Sciences Division, University of Oxford, UK

A K Groves, Department of Community Health and Prevention, Dornsife School of Public Health, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA, USA

L D Cluver, Department of Social Policy and Intervention, Social Sciences Division, University of Oxford, UK

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Adolescent pregnancy; Adolescent mothers; Pregnant learners; Return to school; Postpartum school return Learners with children; South Africa; Schooling; Educational outcomes; Educational policy; Health policy; Reproductive health; Sexual and reproductive

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2020;110(9):850-854. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.2020.v110i9.14664

Article History

Date submitted: 2020-08-31
Date published: 2020-08-31

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