Condom drive stirs S.African worries

by Susan Njanji

A drive that would put more condoms in South Africa's classrooms has critics warning it will only stimulate sexual activity, a charge the country's health minister tells AFP is unfounded.

The great roll out has begun. After much planning, South Africa's government has launched a wide-ranging programme to give children from pre-school through pre-university a better chance of staying healthy as they begin to engage in sex.

Few would argue it is unwarranted.

The country, with a population of around 50 million recorded some 94,000 unplanned teen pregnancies in schools last year, of which 77,000 ended in abortions. In addition, one in every 11 people is infected with HIV.

The programme includes childhood immunisations and teaching about . But it is the handing out of condoms that has grabbed attention and sparked fury, with sceptics uncomfortable that it may force children into early sex.

"We need to think from a child's perspective. When you give a child a toy to play with, for example a toy gun, there's expectation in the way they will use it," said Stanley Makhitha, a Johannesburg-based child rights activist.

"Children who are not may be tempted to have sex because they can see that condoms are there."

Against this kind of reaction Aaron Motsoaledi is battling to defend the scheme, which he says is about providing preventive health care especially for children from impoverished backgrounds who lack the most basic facilities.

"We are not going to go to schools, line up pupils and distribute condoms," he said, rather, if children ask for , including condoms, "we will meet that demand".

"If a comes asking for services, including condoms, nobody expects us to refuse. They are just coming out in the open to say they are sexually active."

But opposition is vociferous. Cheryllyn Dudley, an African Christian Democratic Party , accuses the government of "panicking" in its approach to contain the spread of HIV and teen pregnancies.

"The experience of other countries indicates that condom distribution encourages a culture of casual sex and risky sexual behaviour," she said.

Launching the scheme last week, President Jacob Zuma acknowledged "that this subject makes parents uncomfortable. But we have to face the reality that some learners are sexually active."

LoveLife, a South Africa youth HIV prevention has dismissed as "misplaced" fears that the ready availability of condoms could push up sexual activity among schoolgoers.

"Essentially studies have found that the only effect it has on sexual activity is to make it safer, it doesn't actually increase the amount of , it doesn't bring sexual debut earlier," said LoveLife director Scott Burnett.

In the end school governing bodies will have a final say in whether to make the available in their schools or not, spreading the debate across the country.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Report says teens don't often use condoms

Aug 03, 2006

A study has found most sexually active U.S. teenagers do not use condoms, placing themselves at a higher risk of developing sexually transmitted diseases.

Recommended for you

US sues Gerber over claims on infant formula

1 hour ago

US government regulators announced Thursday they were suing Gerber, the well-known baby food maker, for claiming that its Good Start Gentle formula can prevent or reduce allergies in children.

Blending faith and science to combat obesity

5 hours ago

Science and religion may seem like uneasy partners at times, but when it comes to promoting healthy lifestyles, one UConn Health researcher has shown they can be an effective combination.

Research project puts stroke patients back on their feet

5 hours ago

Finding the will to exercise routinely can be challenging enough for most people, but a stroke presents even more obstacles. Yet aerobic exercise may be crucial for recovery and reducing the risk of another ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.