‘Take context into account on condoms at school’
So much so, that some have suggested the issuing of condoms at schools should not occur in a vacuum.
This follows the approval by Parliament of a new policy by the Department of Basic Education that will allow for condoms to be issued to pupils at schools - starting at primary school level.
While the law stipulates that a child can only consent to sexual contact at the age of 16, psychologists said new research showed that children from as young as 10 and 12 were exploring their sexuality or were engaging in sexual activity.
On the other hand, the law also stipulates that girls from the age of 12 could consent to abortions without the consent or knowledge of their parents.
“These laws are conflicting, but they do speak of a reality in which many youths are having unprotected sex and suffering the consequences,” clinical psychologist Gerda Kriel said.
She said the condoms policy could reduce the number of crises around pregnancies and the trauma of having to undergo abortions.
Clinical and research psychologist, Neil Victor, said that it would be important to see whether the policy became part of a comprehensive sexual and reproductive health educational programme - including training around sexual and reproductive rights.
“Giving a condom without enabling informed decision-making would be a way that we do not engage fully.
“If the condom is part of the discussion around sexual and reproductive health, including rights, then we are starting to make a real difference for the future - addressing not just public health issues but also addressing some of the other major traumas people face - rape and gender violence,” he said.
Victor added that such discussions would also assist people in exploring other, safer ways of being intimate without the assumption that there was only one way.
He said that a significant proportion of adolescent pupils did engage in sexual activity of some kind, and that these interactions were fraught with potentially traumatic experiences such as rape, unwanted pregnancies, gender violence, the potential for contracting HIV, STIs or Hepatitis C, coupled with a loss of dreams and future economic uncertainty.
“It is important for us as society to comprehensively address this reality in ways that are empowering - something that clearly flows from our Bill of Rights and related policy and law - to enable adolescents to make more responsible, informed decisions and understand that they have a choice,” Victor said.
He also said that sex, intimacy and close relationships were of great interest to most adolescents as they developed into individuals within a social and relational network.
“Given this reality, the question we have to ask is whether we will take the responsibility to engage and teach our children in a way that assists them to make informed decisions, or whether we hide behind moral claims, try to sweep the issue under the rug and ostracise anyone who does not conform, with all the long term negative impacts for the person.”
Kriel said if the country were to take a cue from international policies, best practice around the protection against STIs/HIV/and unwanted pregnancies and a combination of access to contraception, as well as teaching and encouraging abstinence, would have to be encouraged.
She said it was also crucial that the parents of teenagers become involved in their children’s sex education, adding peer education groups could also be a valuable resource.
“If parents can be educated in how to educate their children appropriately about sex and the consequences thereof from a young age, there can be a dramatic change in adolescent sexual behaviour.”
The South African Democratic Teachers’ Union has called for sexuality education to be made a compulsory component of the life orientation subject taught at schools - as a crucial part of preparing them for life.