Sex with children

2012-06-22 00:00

THE day I got a serious beating from my teacher in high school was when I suggested that a young woman in our class was making us fall asleep during lessons because of her pregnancy.

 

It was just before the start of maths class when little me, seated at the back of the class, raised my hand with a furious click as if to make an educated suggestion. My teacher nodded.

I told her that the young woman, who was about 14, was making us fall asleep because of her bulging tummy. Where we grew up there was a belief among teenagers that being around a pregnant person would make one sleepy, and we used to mock our pregnant classmates with that.

The whole class burst out laughing. They knew what I was talking about, but my teacher didn’t. My classmates explained to her and she became furious. I was told to stand on one foot until the class was done and severely beaten after that.

But the 14-year-old was indeed pregnant, and she was later told to leave school so she could take care of her pregnancy far from other pupils.

The problem of teenage pregnancy continues to hound our society. My jaw dropped when I read in a newspaper recently about children as young as nine being given condoms at a primary school in KwaZulu-Natal in an effort to curb pregnancies.

We know teenage pregnancy is a serious problem across the country, and one we cannot afford to ignore. It should worry everyone. But my biggest worry is that parents of these children seem to distance themselves from this problem.

It would seem teachers are leading the way, as at Zibambele Primary School where they are dishing out condoms. In all these instances, parents act surprised that their teenagers could be having sex.

Our country has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the world. Stats SA reports that over 160 000 schoolgirls conceived between 2008 and 2010.

The highest number of these are in KwaZulu-Natal, which the provincial Department of Health says also has the highest HIV infection rate at around 38,7 %, with about 10% of girls aged 10 to 24 testing HIV-positive.

The numbers are shocking and show the extent of the problem. Most of these pupils who fall pregnant don’t make it back to school after giving birth. Those who do are less likely to complete high school. That was the case with my former classmate, who was very intelligent and could have made something of herself.

Even Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga complained about the reversal of the significant progress made since 1994 towards achieving gender parity in basic education. It affects “our efforts to ensure that girl children remain in school, in order to contribute towards a quality life for all, free of poverty”, she said.

A large number of families begun by teen mothers live in poverty, and most of them are on welfare receiving the petty government grant. The vicious cycle goes on and on.

But parents and tribal leaders need to come on board to help teachers to deal with this problem if it’s to go away. This is what KZN MEC for Health Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo meant by his plea for the creation of a “social compact against this epidemic” of teenage pregnancy. Teachers can teach sex education. But it needs parents to enforce rules at home.

 

We still have problems, especially in rural areas where most parents are uncomfortable with talking about sex with their young children for cultural and other outdated reasons. Others, instead of reprimanding young girls who come home pregnant, support it as a sign of fertility. There is a lot the government needs to do to educate these kinds of people.

Sex education cannot end in classrooms. The roll-out of condoms by the schools should be commended. But I think it should also be extended into the communities where these children and men who sleep with them live.

The truth is, issuing condoms to an eight-year-old on its own is misplaced. It’s unlikely that an eight-year-old boy would have sex. It may happen, but it is unlikely. But a nine-year-old girl could be coerced into having sex by older boys who are either at high school or out of school. These young girls are unlikely to initiate sex and a condom in their hands may not help them either.

The launch of the Sugar Daddy Campaign in KwaHlabisa village early this year was a provincial government intervention that needs to be commended. The campaign aims to discourage young women from having sex with older men in exchange for money and other goods. And it encourages community leadership to condemn older men who have sex with young girls.

The programme should also make sugar daddies realise that what they are doing is wrong and punishable by law. It should go bey­ond putting up billboards. The message should filter down to the ears of the children and perpetrators.

This fight can only be won in our communities. We need to stand up, regardless of whose daughter it is.

 

 

• Isaac Mangena is a journalist and aspiring writer.

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