‘They think HIV is just a story’

2011-02-19 16:33

The youth don’t fear contracting HIV – and young girls will have unprotected sex with older men for cash and fancy hairstyles.

These are some of the revelations that emerged during a City Press roundtable discussion with learners as the country observed STI/Condom Week.

Learners from Phandimfundo High School on the East Rand, which recently won a public speaking competition on sexuality organised by the Ekurhuleni Municipality, discussed issues ranging from government’s proposed voluntary counselling and testing campaign, to condoms in schools and attitudes towards HIV.

The learners expressed ignorance of STI/Condom Week, saying this was a sign that government was not effectively communicating with the youth.

They were critical of government’s plan to extend voluntary counselling and testing for HIV to high schools. Said Grade 10 ­learner Lebogang Nchabeleng: “As much as we need to know our ­status we are not ready to deal with the consequences because that might disturb our studies.”

The learners said because of the stigma attached to HIV, testing in schools would cause panic and suspicion.

“If you cough in class people will start saying: vele yiyo! (you’ve got the virus!) It’s better if people go to clinics if they want to get tested,” said Grade 11 learner Kutlwano Phasha.

The discussion also brought home the reality that while ­messages of safe sex and HIV awareness are sent out daily through the mass media, young people still find it hard to get their parents to discuss sex openly. Learners said it was easier to ­discuss the subject with their teachers.

“We should be able to talk to our parents about sex and not just leave things like that because we say it’s our culture. I don’t know why our parents should not want to talk about sex,” said Happy Malapane, also in Grade 11.

The learners, who live in informal settlements and townships, said poverty was one of the factors contributing to relationships ­between youths and older men or “sugar daddies”.

In most instances, said the learners, young girls gave in to demands for unprotected sex with older men because they felt indebted to them due to the fact that they often ­depended on them financially.

S’thembiso Maphanga said: “Poverty plays a role because, for example, when a girl is in a relationship with a youngster who can only buy her a R50 gift once in a while then she is tempted to be involved with an older man who will give her R200 every week and he can do as he likes with her.”

Said Phasha: “Girls won’t say no to sugar daddies when they don’t want to use a condom, because they buy them presents and give them money for hairstyles.”

The discussion revealed some worrying attitudes towards HIV and condom use among the youth.

“People are not afraid of HIV, they think that all of us are going to die anyway, so what?” said ­Malapane.

Mduduzi Thanjekwayo said: “They think HIV is just a story, they don’t care!”

The issue of the legal age for consensual sex (16 years) also came under scrutiny.

“There is too much peer pressure on youth to have sex but at 16 we are still very young,” said Thabang Maepa.

Malapane said: “If you don’t have sex they say you are not strengthening your love for each other. So if you have sex then they say you are doing the right thing.”

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