Face off over condoms at schools
A mooted government plan to distribute free condoms at schools has caused a heated debate, with religious groups, NGOs and school principals facing off on the issue.
Department of Basic Education spokesman Granville Whittle said that the department had not indicated that it would definitely distribute condoms at schools, as its Integrated Strategy on HIV and Aids 2012-16 was still in the draft phase and open to public consultation.
According to Whittle, officials are looking at a strategy aiming to implement “evidence-based interventions” and to “rigorously scale-up proven effective responses”, which could include timetabled HIV/Aids education and promoting the use of condoms as a preventative measure.
“We have not indicated that we will roll out condoms at schools. We issued a draft document on Education’s response to HIV and Aids and we will be consulting on it,” Whittle said.
Under the current policy the decision to distribute condoms at schools rests with school governing bodies.
The National Children’s Act states that no person is allowed to refuse to sell or distribute free condoms to children who are over the age of 12.
Equal Education spokeswoman Yoliswa Dwane said they would “welcome the move to provide condoms in schools” especially in the light of the high HIV infection rates among teens.
“We should not only teach children at school about using condoms, we should make them available. And they should be available in a place where pupils can just pick them up, without having to ask teachers for them,” she said.
Ismael Esau, deputy principal of Vista High School in the Cape Town CBD, said they were already providing birth control at the school.
“Last year we had a high rate of pregnancies at the school so we have nurses come in on a monthly basis and they provide condoms and birth control methods where necessary,” he said.
Alan Liebenberg, principal of Mitchells Plain High School Beacon Hill, said he agreed with the policy of handing out condoms – which his school does not do. There have been 11 pregnancies at the school so far this year.
However, religious leaders have slammed any suggestion of promoting and providing condoms at schools as a means of reducing teen pregnancy and HIV/Aids infection among the youth.
SA Muslim Network chairman and medical doctor Faisal Suliman said the department should rather send a message of “abstinence, before condoms”.
“I see 15-year-old pregnant girls every day and my colleagues see the same thing. I seldom come across a young girl who does not know about condoms but many of them don’t use them,” Suliman said.
“We need a united message of morality. In Uganda the HIV rate was not brought down by condoms but by abstinence.”
Christian Action Network national co-ordinator Taryn Hodgson said teenagers should be taught that “sex is something sacred to be shared between a husband and a wife and the only fail-safe message to prevent HIV/Aids and teen pregnancy is abstinence”.
South African Hindu Maha Sabha president Ashwin Trikamjee said religious leaders had rejected the idea of handing out condoms at schools.
“It’s not going to solve the problem. Education is more relevant than giving out condoms. Giving out condoms encourages promiscuity,” Trikamjee said.
Research conducted by Michael Bennish and Juliana Han for the the NGO Mpilonhle in 2009 indicated that condom use rates among adolescents remained low, partly due to limited access. The research cited long travel times to clinics, judgmental attitudes of providers and the cost in shops as reasons why teens were not using condoms.
They also found that while condom distribution in schools was up to the school governing body, many people did not know this was the policy.
In 2006, then-education minister Naledi Pandor said the department would not be providing condoms to schools.
”I don't understand why 13-year-olds are engaged in sexual activity at that age. For young people the message is abstain, abstain and abstain,” she said. - Weekend Argus
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