Teaching teenage girls the facts of life

2008-12-20 00:00

The month of December is important in that besides celebrating Christmas, it’s a month that gives parents, teachers and the community at large an opportunity to remind their teenage children about the deadly effects of HIV/Aids.

It is a fact that most new HIV infections are occurring in young women in the 15 to 24 age bracket. Research has also shown that new infection rates in males of the same age group are quite low.

It is important for parents and teachers to remind teenage girls to think twice before they get involved with older men whose sexual history they do not know.

Older men should also think about the young lives they may be destroying, especially those men who are fully aware that they are HIV-positive, but continue to prey on teenage girls, at times becoming so bold as to actually impregnate these young girls. To sweep the whole story under the carpet, these older men offer to pay lobola or damages so that parents of the unfortunate girl do not take legal action.

Parents who accept lobola or damages under these circumstances should look within themselves and ask whether the child’s exposure to HIV/Aids can really be bought off with promises of a couple of thousand rand or even a new car. What about the young girl? Are you thinking about her education and future? Why are societal structures dooming our teenage girls to such a life?

The sad reality is that women seem to be bearing the brunt of all life’s misfortunes, HIV included. Research has shown that married women, who for a long time assumed that they were safe in the comfort of their homes, are succumbing to HIV at alarming rates.

In most cases these include some of these young girls who have only known one man — the man they married. Society as a whole must change some of these attitudes that make it acceptable for a grown-up man to pick a teenage girl for an intimate relationship.

How can we talk about cross-generational sex and not talk about the thousands of little girls who are being abused by close relatives, family members, teachers and other people entrusted to care for them? Very important questions indeed. It can be safely concluded that it is through such incidents that some young girls are getting infected with HIV.

Some individuals have argued that these teenage girls can choose to be or not be involved with older men. The question that comes to mind is: are these young girls mature enough to make informed choices?

In some instances, it’s never a question of choice because surely you do not expect a 15-year-old girl to be mature enough to make decisions. Although the young girls may look mature, we owe it to them to let them grow up without being abused.

It is because of such practices that a visit to our graveyards will show you that those losing their lives to Aids keep getting younger. Talk about an Aids-free generation is increasingly becoming a mirage as we realise that even young ones seem to be heading towards the same disaster course which older generations have succumbed to.

Let us make an effort to remind our teenage girls that no matter what they receive from older men — a car, jewellery, shopping trips or money — they must learn to say “No”. When they accept these presents, they are not only putting their education in jeopardy, but they also increase their chances of being exposed to HIV/Aids.

Parents should advise teenage girls to abstain from intimate relationships. Intimate relationships lead to unwanted pregnancies and many other problems. The long chain of problems include sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea, syphilis, chancroid, genital herpes and last, but most dangerous, HIV/Aids.

Our schools should be centres of counselling services, with professionals who are prepared to share their knowledge and give young girls facts about growing up.

Let us remind our teenage girls that before they fall for an intimate relationship with older men, they must ask themselves: “Am I ready? What are the long-term benefits?” And much more important, seek advice about growing up from parents and teachers.

• Alois Nzembe has several years of teaching experience at both primary and high school levels. He teaches geography at Icesa College.

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