Condoms in Schools? Not the worst idea.

2015-05-17 17:08

A recent proposal to distribute condoms to scholars as young as those in grades between 4 and 6 has been the subject of much controversy amongst religious groups, politicians and civil society. This comes after the department of education’s proposal to distributed condoms to children some claimed to be as young as ten years old. Many believe this move signals the gradual decay in social morality and see it as part contributor to what many parents view to be the explicit exposure of children to an already highly sexualised society.

In my primary years, my parents thought it a good idea to consign me to a school in Westonaria. Don’t let this put you off. Anybody who’s ever been there will know that if you travel that far west in Gauteng, you may fall off the Earth! Though what felt like a remote area was actually the place to be if you were as impressionable as friends and myself were. Spending most Fridays afternoon’s unchaperoned at a youth park not far from the school’s grounds, I can attest to the fact that many a child were conceived at the very recreational facilities that were built with the intention to deter us from facing the complexities of premature parenting….. (Quiet at the back there!)

It was Steven Pinker who so gracefully articulated an argument that will stay with me for life. People associate changes in themselves with changes in the world and changes in the world with moral decline. It’s the chronic illusion of “the good old days”.  Therefore it doesn’t come as a surprise that this very memory of my earlier years returned to me when I read that the South African Council of Churches and  many other groups (this ironically includes some teen-coaches alike! Step forward Nomveliso Mbanga) were having a fit of the Victorian vapors because of this progressive, yes progressive, move.

In an age highly saturated in sexualised content, we absorb far more explicit images on prime time television, continue to recite the obscenity through popular music and play audience to disturbing nude selfies way before we’ve had our breakfast sausages! This influx of highly graphic themes has changed the attitudes our current generation has on sex and sexuality in a far more overt manner than our parents of the revolutionary sixties. These have contributed to the beliefs our youngsters have on sex and subsequently exposed them to misinformation. It is disturbing, however a reality we all need to reconcile with.

Due to this and other paradoxical attitudes society has on sex, it isn’t particularly shocking that scholars are now confronted by the dangers that come with being sexually active at an earlier age. Many which accompany the youth throughout adulthood and will remain unless we problematise the concept of ‘innocence’ and mediate honest, unfettered conversations on the sexual activity of the youth. A discussion which when left to a bench full of Bishops can take a hyper-moral feel. The fact is, a child as young as twelve can terminate pregnancy without consulting her parents, a decision far more complex and far-reaching than deciding where to dispose a used condom. Is this ideal? Perhaps not. Though what comes after that is far more harmful.

There is absolutely no scientific proof that the presence of condoms encourages people to have sex. It takes no further than critically examining the Department of Health’s efforts to persuade adults to engage in healthier sexual activity.  Through its various initiatives, which includes easy accessibility of condoms at hotspots for casual encounters, this assumption is disingenuous given the necessity of the health department to alter their budget to accommodate the ever growing roll-out of anti-retrovirals. Given the ceaseless studies that have been conducted – almost all which concluded that yes, YOUR children are indeed having consensual sex earlier and earlier than you did – it baffles me why any person who claims to have the interests of these very children would deny them the opportunity to protect themselves.

Perhaps this move, combined with the robust instilling in our children that condoms are an integral part to sex, they will be spared the reality that millions of Africans face. And if we really care about their innocence, we must ensure that they are spared the scourge of HIV/Aids. Most concerning, the South African approach to sex-education is often entirely detached from education about reproduction. The result of this is the weak grasp of contraception which many youth see as a precaution against disease.

Given the mandate of the Department of Education to keep children in school, which goes beyond the syllabus and involves equipping them with the lifelong tools necessary for them to elevate themselves from poverty, a plan which can be derailed by pregnancy and infection, the shaping of their attitudes on sex is a vital part of this.

I may be excommunicated for this but an example where this has worked in in the Netherland’s. A nation with a far more progressive attitude towards youth sexuality which enjoys the benefits of the lowest teen-pregnancy and HIV infection rate. Last year, 2,200 girls under the age of 20 gave birth (less than 1.5percent of all births registered in the Dutch country). Theirs is a two-fold strategy which combines sexual education far more open and less taboo with the necessary facilities for youngsters to walk in and acquire the necessary information and support such as counselling, condoms and other forms of contraception.

We have a very ugly legacy in this country of excluding certain segments of society from their liberties. Many psychologists believe that by imposing all the restrictions we do on post-pubescent teens, we are indeed infantilizing them. By providing them with an innate sense of agency, we are recognizing the fact that sexuality is a personal choice. A decision which includes the right to delay sexual activity and the responsibility which comes with one protecting his or herself should they decide to part take.

I personally wonder if the SA Council of Churches has gathered the views and attitudes of these children and has gone a step further by researching what the ramifications of denying scholars the necessary support would be. The resistance to letting young people learn the dangers of being sexually active and at the same time rejecting efforts to ensure that experiential learning should be safe may be more insidious and subtle than “the move may send out the wrong message to youngsters”.

Are we sending the right message by saying that sex and sexuality is a discussion that doesn’t involve them by withholding the very implements that will ensure their safety during and beyond their schooling years? Are we sending the right message by turning a blind eye to the number of young girls who were compelled to leave school because they were faced with raising their own during times when they should have been getting an education? Are we sending a message at all?

Do catch me on Twitter: @Thabo_SerokeY

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