‘Younger, dangerous sex’
Many South African children are having sex for the first time between the ages of 14 and 15, says a new study that suggests parents should talk to them about their sexuality from as early as the age of five.
Of the children who were sexually active, barely half used a condom when they last had sex, according to a Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) study.
The research also found that silence on sexual issues by key adult figures generated misconceptions and myths, further contributing to risky sexual practices.
As a result, the HSRC has recommended that the basic education curriculum be amended to include “accurate and comprehensive sexuality information”.
Save the Children, an international, independent child rights organisation, commissioned the HSRC to examine the attitudes, practices and knowledge of sexuality, gender, sexual and reproductive health as well as HIV among children between five and 17 years old.
About 2 000 children and their parents were interviewed in the Western Cape, Limpopo, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.
The researchers found:
* Only 49 percent of children between 12 and 17 said they had used a condom when they last had sex.
* More than half said their parents had no knowledge of their sexual activity.
* Children aged between five and 11 had very limited knowledge of their own sexuality, reproduction processes and sexual health.
* Those aged between 12 and 17 had higher levels of knowledge, but it was not comprehensive.
* 12 percent of teenagers aged between 12 and 17 had discussed sex and HIV with their parents.
The report also said “children and adolescents are not adequately informed and educated about sexuality, and how to avoid HIV transmission specifically and HIV prevention in general”.
Parents, however, indicated that they had spoken to their children about sex, but their priority had been talking about sexual abuse and how to avoid being infected with HIV.
The researchers suggested parents talk to their young children about issues appropriate to their age. “For very young children, we talk more about bodies and how bodies work, how infections are transmitted as well as the meaning of ‘body rights’, tolerance and respect, and healthy relationships within and outside their families.”
The report acknowledged that this was a difficult subject to talk about, but said failing to do so put children at risk as they were not fully equipped to make the right choices.
The researchers said the government should ensure that parents and children received the necessary knowledge, skills and support. “We are calling for an amendment of the basic education curriculum to include accurate and comprehensive sexuality information, and teachers must be trained and supported to deliver it.
“We also call for action to address the social norms and negative attitudes that hinder parents and adults from providing comprehensive sexuality information to children.”
The Basic Education Department has included topics of physical and sexual abuse into the new life skills Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement for Grade R to Grade 3 pupils, to be implemented next year. - The Star