By Juggie Naran
One out of every three children is having sex at the age of 10, and 17 out of 100 will deliberately spread the virus if they know they are HIV-positive.
These are the findings of a comprehensive survey by the Community Information, Empowerment and Transparency (CIET Africa) in November and December 2002.
CIET is a worldwide network of professionals from a variety of disciplines that provide technical support to communities to enable them to participate in an informed way in decisions that affect their lives.
The results of the study have already been used to develop life skills education materials, called "Beyond Victims and Villains", adapted to meet the standards of the revised national curriculum. The survey was published in the British Medical Journal last year.
The study involved 269 905 pupils in Grades 6 to 11 in all language groups, across a range of schools and from all nine provinces.
Some of the other disturbing findings included that, at 18, two out of every three children had had sex. Two out of 10 pupils did not believe condoms prevented pregnancy or other sexually transmitted diseases.
One in 10 said they believed sex with a virgin could cure HIV/Aids, and one in 10 had been raped in the past year. Three out of every 100 pupils thought that girls liked sexually violent boys and one out of every 10 thought that girls who got raped, asked for it, according to the study.
The study further stated people were becoming sexually active earlier and belief systems about sex supported sexually violent and sexually irresponsible behaviour.
"It is not surprising that 43 percent of all sexual crimes committed on children reported to Childline, were committed by children under 18," the study reported.
Despite widespread preventive interventions, reports of sexual abuse had increased. Reported incidents do not reflect the scale of the problem. CIET Africa research concluded that of every 394 offences committed, only 272 were reported.
"Only 17 of these become dockets of which five are referred to court for prosecution. One docket in every five gets 'lost' and only one conviction is secured," said the study.
Some of the reasons for not reporting rape were shame, feelings of guilt, lack of access to a reporting point, intimidation, adult gate-keeping, an emotional bond with the abuser and economic dependence.
The study also challenged myths:
- Damage to the child was irreparable. Children can, in fact, heal. It is essential to acknowledge and support the child's capacity to heal and benefit from therapy and a healing environment.
- Children can say "no" to abuse. This can put children at greater risk as it creates an expectation of safety. Children often cannot say "no" because the abuser is more powerful physically and psychologically. There is a universal norm of respect for an older person that most children have internalised. Older people have access to resources children may need or want and use these to manipulate the child.
- Abused children will develop into adult abusers. While this is sometimes true, it was not true for the majority of victims - girls.
Public campaigns and activism, said the study, had very little impact on service provision in respect of prevention or management.
Research indicated that a secure childhood was seen as one of the most critical factors in developing mature and responsible adults. But, the study recommended that life skills education in schools focused on the inculcation of a human and child rights culture.
Life skills needed to focus on not only the pursuit of protecting and claiming a person's rights but also the protection of the rights of others, particularly the rights of those who were vulnerable.
Educational psychologist Salochani Govender supported the CIET Africa research findings. The time had arrived for South Africa to become pro-active and this had to start at home and school, she said.
Education on sexuality, HIV and Aids, creating attitudes of empowerment and growth and developing a transformational mindset were the keys to moving forward, said Govender.
The education department had life skills, sexuality and HIV programmes as well as pupil support material for supporting youth in a trained and nurturing environment in which issues could be discussed.
The Advice Desk for the Abused executive director, Fatima Bayat, said it was very disappointing and sad to note that rape and sexual assault were dominating society.
"Our youth, including young children, are sexually active."
There were numerous reasons why young people displayed inappropriate sexual behaviour patterns, said Bayat.
"Media, especially television, plays a very influential role to enhance kids' curiosity and encourages them to become sexually active. Explicit messages with sexual connotations are common.
"Often young girls, deprived of financial security and love, become victims of rape or consenting to sex for fear of rejection," said Bayat.
KwaZulu-Natal department of education spokesperson, Christy Naude, was not available for comment.