Life transitions of young women and the influence of older sisters : adolescent sexual behaviour and childbearing in South Africa
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High adolescent childbearing in South Africa has been sustained over several decades (Kaufman, De Wet and Stadler, 2001:149). Findings from the South African Demographic Health Survey (1998) show that 35 percent of 19-year-old girls had given birth at least once (DoH, 1999). Early childbearing can affect the economic, social and physical well-being of the mother and child. In addition young women who are sexually active are also at high risk of HIV infection and other STIs (Rutenberg, Kaufman, McIntyre, Brown and Karim, 2003). Apart from the health risks, there are also social consequences of early childbearing. Studies that have examined the factors influencing early childbearing show that there is a variation in the prevalence of early childbearing that is by place of residence (rural vs. urban), educational attainment, socio-economic status and population group (Palmuleni, Kalule-Sabiti.and Makiwane, 2007; Dickson, 2003). However, there have been few studies that explore the influence of family structure on early childbearing and sexual intercourse. In an attempt to tease out family influences on teenage sexual behaviour, recent literature explores the correlation of timing of sexual activity and childbearing among sibling pairs. Findings confirm that a sister’s sexual initiation and timing of childbearing and other forms of family formation have an independent strong effect on the timing of family formation for a younger sibling (East, 1996). Exploring a sister’s influence in the context of high early childbearing, such as one observed in South Africa, could contribute in understanding escalating teenage pregnancies and childbearing. The 1998 South African Demographic Health Survey will be used to analyse the sexual behaviour patterns of young women between 15 and 24 years of age, focusing specifically on their age at sexual debut, and age and the covariates associated with teenage pregnancy. These results show that having an older sister who has given birth to a child during adolescence could influence the age at which a younger sister has a child and her age at sexual debut. From the results sisters could be a strategic population to target for pregnancy prevention, which would help reduce early childbearing and also the spread of HIV and AIDS in Africa.