By Noor-Jehan Yoro Badat
South African children as young as 11 are having sex, filming the act, and then selling it on the Internet.
According to a Johannesburg family therapist, this is a disturbing reality facing South African teenagers. Dr Tanya Robinson says: "In my practice I have seen numerous teens from as young as 11 who become involved in very disturbing sexual situations, for example, teens photographing each other having sexual intercourse, orgies, having oral sex, etc and selling it as pornography via the Internet."
These activities involve both urban and rural teens, she adds.
"The problem is that drugs are often present. Not only do the teens sexually exploit each other, but they get addicted to substances that add to their dysfunctional behaviour .
"Coke (cocaine) use among our kids is prevalent. Coke and CAT are the new E (Ecstasy)... You have 14- to 17-year-olds who have had five to seven sexual partners. There is no respect for anyone else or for themselves."
In one of her case studies, Robinson spoke to a girl of 14 from a "plattelandse dorpie" who came from a wealthy and functional family.
The teenager "experienced numerous sexual acts with various young men and sexual experimentation with young girls her age in nightclubs".
"To make it even more disturbing, these scenes have been videoclipped and later been placed on the Net. The girl told me that this exhibitionistic behaviour is quite common in their circle of friends. And they see it as 'just having fun'.
"These sexual games and interaction among adolescents are quite dangerous as they set the precedent of leading a life where anything and everything goes. Further sexual exploration may get them into high-risk situations where sexual exploitation may occur together with experimentation with various drugs," explains Robinson.
Pretoria sexologist and relationship therapist Elmari Craig says she is not surprised that teenagers are indulging in these sexual activities" as, it seems, "anything goes".
She says that, with access to media, a lack of healthy sex education, and porn found on the Internet and through cellphones, teenagers are becoming sexually desensitised.
"In my experience, young people are sexually active at a younger age, around 12 and 13 years. The in thing at the moment is not having heterosexual sex but to have bisexual experiences."
Two factors are curiosity and peer pressure, she says.
Robinson cites another case study: "The child looked at me with blank eyes and a lifeless expression. She told me that she does not think there is anything wrong with what they are doing.
When the results on her pregnancy test and HIV and STI screening returned, they were clear, and she said sarcastically: 'See, I told you that everything is fine. I can look after myself'."
But in contrast, 15-year-old Jane (not her real name), who is in rehab for depression, told of her deep shame and remorse for "what I did to my body".
"I hate myself. How could I get involved with this smut? I thought I was so cool, and now I just feel like a dirty, slutty girl. My life feels as if it is over.
"I hate what I have done to my parents, the disappointment and hurt. When they got a DVD that my ex-boyfriend dropped at their house with me naked with one of my girlfriends, kissing, I felt like killing myself.
"I feel so ashamed and don't want to hurt anyone anymore. I am so glad that I now have people in my life to help me."
Robinson emphasises, however, that such behaviour isn't representative of the teenage population, but "many kids are sexually active and involved in sexual stuff", such as exhibitionism.
She believes that the lack of values in families and society is contributing to shocking teen behaviour.
Robinson is frustrated that in some of her sessions, she can't seem to get through to these teenagers. "After three months in session with some of these children, they say they don't have any remorse."
How does one rehabilitate patients who have no idea of boundaries, she asks.
"Parents can't cope, and they pass on the responsibility of parenting by putting these teenagers into therapy … Nowadays, both parents have to work. They are too busy and too stressed to reinforce good boundaries, and they need to have the time to do this."
As a society, we don't look into values and prioritise our children, Robinson believes. We live in a materially disposable society, and children are given too much pocket money.
Robinson cites another case where a parent divulged how her child had abused her cellphone camera. "One of my patients took photos of her genitals and MMSed it to her boyfriend."
She adds: "I think it is so important to talk to our teenagers on boundaries with behaviour and experimentation, and to give them guidance on healthy and functional behaviour."
Craig agrees, saying that parents need to keep communication channels with their children open. Risky behaviour, and the negative impact this will have later on in their lives, needs to be explained to them, she believes.