Primary school pupils as young as 10 are being sexually bullied in classrooms and toilets of some schools by their peers, according to Durban Childline.
KwaZulu-Natal Childline spokeswoman Linda Naidoo said sexual violence was extremely high. The Durban Childline office received about 25 000 calls a month, most of which were related to abuse.
Many children had become desensitised to sex as they had been exposed to exploitative circumstances and had themselves become abusers.
Child experts in the province say the issue is serious and shocking.
In one such case, although it took place at a high school, a Jules High School, Joburg, pupil told police she had been gang-raped by fellow pupils after consuming a spiked cool drink two weeks ago.
The case has caused a public outcry.
In a similar incident in Durban, a 13-year-old Chesterville boy alleged he had been gang-raped by fellow pupils in his dormitory because he was gay.
A study by LoveLife in 2004 found 42 percent of pupils in the age group 15 to 17 were having sex and 51 percent of these children began having sex before they were 15.
Some experts assume these figures have since increased.
Durban’s Dr Prithy Ramlachan, who deals with sexual health, said sex among young people, whether coerced or consensual, was becoming common.
Oral sex and sleeping with older men were some of the high-risk sexual behaviours Ramlachan said children engaged in.
He identified easy access to media as the biggest perpetuating factor. He said youngsters learnt sexual behaviours from music videos that were erotic, bordering on pornorgraphy.
“Sex has been trivialised. The other part is the country’s (Abstain, Be Faithful, Condomise) campaign,” he said.
“One has to ask if it delivers the message that sex happens within tradition and a loving and lasting relationship.”
said a lack of adult vigilance and failure to instil a strong sense of self-worth and morality was the reason young people were engaging in sexual behaviour.
The Department of Basic Education was concerned about crime and sexual abuse in schools, particularly against girls, said spokeswoman Hope Mokgatlhe.
She said sexual harassment and other crimes would not be tolerated in the school environment as they posed a serious barrier to education.
“We have issued guidelines for the prevention and management of sexual violence and harassment, to support schools and communities in responding to cases of sexual harassment and violence against pupils.
“The department is aware of the reluctance of many young people and their parents and communities to report such cases, particularly against teachers.
“We are releasing a handbook for pupils, Speak Out - Youth Report Sexual Abuse. It will equip learners with knowledge of sexual harassment and violence, its implications, ways to protect themselves.”
The handbook also gave contact details for organisations that could help. - The Mercury