School reengagement policies for teen mothers in sub-Saharan Afrika have become a growing phenomenon to increase educational opportunities for adolescent girls who are excluded from school postpartum. Despite these progressive policies, teen mothers’ school reentry rates remain low, and those who reengage school face educational barriers (Kapenda, 2012). Earlier research has found that the social construction of teen mothers regarding gender roles, adolescence sexual behavior, and marital status can influence school reengagement (Nekongo-Nielsen, & Mbukusa, 2013). Namibia, a country in southwestern Afrika, implemented a Prevention and Management of Learner Pregnancy (PMLP) education policy in 2010 (Ministry of Education, 2010). This paper uses the social construction of target populations framework (Ingram, Schneider, & DeLeon, 2014) to examine ways in which teen mothers are constructed in popular print media. The specific research question was: How are teen mothers socially constructed by the Namibian public?
This study used critical discourse analysis. The primary data source was an independent newspaper, The Namibian. All news items, including news reports, letters to the editor, readers’ contributions, and opinion contributions, between the years 2014 – 2018 were considered. We used a web-based archive to search the words “teen + pregnancy + learner”, “teen+ mother”, and “pregnancy + school + girl.” The news items that did not mention teen mother or pregnancy and online public comments were excluded. We found 24 items mentioning teen mothers, including 16 news reports, 2 letters, 2 opinion / features, and 4 readers contributions. We then coded these news items using emic codes that were induced through multiple readings (Schwandt, 2014) to identify words and phrases that construct teen mothers. These codes were then organized into themes. Peer debriefing and discussions enhance the credibility of our interpretation.
The Namibian public reported teen mothers experiencing adversities. These included sexual exploitation (e.g., being silenced), not protected (e.g., sexual assault and becoming pregnant), stigma (e.g., name calling), and lack of support (e.g., parents did not support me). They also reported teen mothers as vulnerable. These vulnerability stem from lack of sex education (e.g., what are we doing to teach them? ), and education inequality (not recognizing importance of education). The Namibian public described that the adults should be blamed for the incidences in teen motherhood. They blamed policy makers, (e.g., policy encourages teen pregnancies), law enforcement (e.g., not enforced statutory rape), and cultural losses (e.g., neglecting culture and tradition) . The Namibian public also provided suggestions to support teen mothers. These include “before judging, know the situation report”, using evidence-based “data”, and “focusing on positive experiences”.
Conclusions and implications
Teen mothers face barriers at multiple levels. The Namibian public constructed that teen mothers are exposed to adversities that largely stem from girls’ vulnerable position. Many blamed adults for state of teen motherhood in Namibia. Understanding how the public understands teen motherhood can help the Namibian government design appropriate programs for reaching their school re-engagement goals.