"Parents have failed miserably to do their jobs and that is why the government is having to get involved."
That was the brutal criticism levelled against parents by Department of Basic Education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga, following the gazetting of the National HIV, STIs and TB policy.
The policy document states that it aims to promote a multi-sectoral approach that employs a combination of biomedical, behavioural, social and structural interventions to reduce transmission and mitigate susceptibility and vulnerability to HIV, STIs and/or TB in the Basic Education Sector.
Access to male and female condoms and information on their use will be made available to all pupils in the Basic Education Sector, as well as all educators, school support staff and officials, it said.
Mhlanga said the department had to get involved as the situation was getting out of hand with children in primary schools becoming pregnant.
Media reports revealed recently that 803 pupils had got pregnant last year and 19 of them were in Grade 3.
“This policy is about much more than access to condoms in schools, there are people who have to walk very long distances just to get information," Mhlanga said.
“The government is doing this because the parents have failed dismally at their jobs. You can print that.
“They should know their children are having sex at a young age. If there are old people who are having sex with children, they should report that person and stop negotiating with them.”
Mhlanga said it was important that parents talked to and educated their children about sex.
“This policy will also help teachers, as there are 60 000 teachers who are living with HIV and do not even know. There are NGOs out there that are calling for even wider distribution of condoms,” he said.
Mhlanga said those critical of the policy should get first-hand experience from the families that have been directly affected by HIV.
“They should visit a family of the child that fell pregnant in primary school and I guarantee that they will change their minds.”
Joan van Niekerk, a prominent child protection consultant formerly affiliated with Childline, said this was a difficult and contentious issue.
“If the condoms are provided in schools, they must come with the appropriate education - not just the scary details, but information to help children think through their choices,” she said.