Zambezi Times Online

Aids Activists Angry At School Ban On Condoms

LUSAKA, Mar 16 - One step forward, three steps backwards: that's how various AIDS activists, parents and teachers in Zambia are describing the government's decision to ban the distribution of condoms in schools on the grounds that it promotes promiscuity.

Walter Tapfumaneyi, HIV/AIDS Regional Programme Coordinator for PANOS, a non-governmental organization, says the condoms simply afforded protection to those children who choose to have sex.

"Young people do not have sex with each other - it is usually with older people, and they need to be able to protect themselves. We cannot stop them from having sex, but we can at least stop them from contracting HIV in the process," he said.

Wallace Shawa, like several other parents, told IPS that he had needed a lot of persuasion to accept HIV/AIDS education in schools. And, he initially thought the "free and easy access" to condoms "was going a bit too far". But this self-described traditionalist eventually got used to the idea - and even discussed HIV with his three teenage children.

"The children were aware about the dangers of HIV/AIDS and prevention methods. I never asked my children if they were sexually active...I hope they are not...But I knew that they would practice safe sex if they were - which at the end of the day is a better alternative."

Teacher Madeline Chuma says that in her experience, the availability of condoms didn't influence children's decisions on whether to have sex or not: "Some of them we could see were sexually active, and we encouraged condoms - but we also taught responsibility. Some chose not to have sex and that was fine too."

What makes the government's announcement especially regrettable, according to Chuma, is that it puts an end to hopes that the female condom would also be made available. She had thought of this as the next step in HIV/AIDS education: that girls and boys would grow up knowing how to use the female condom, and feeling comfortable doing so.

"I cannot believe we are going backwards. It's like we have fought a battle only to shoot ourselves in the foot," said Chuma.

"AIDS is here and we have to teach children how to protect themselves. Those who come from strong religious backgrounds will keep the oath of abstinence, which is good - but for others, there must be something to protect them," she added.

Chuma's words are echoed by Nkandu Luo, an AIDS scientist and former health minister. "We should appreciate the various approaches to curb HIV transmission...Those who believe in abstinence should teach it, but those who believe in condoms should also preach that message," he noted.

Luo, who has conducted research into adolescent sexual habits and currently heads the Zambian chapter of the Society for Women and AIDS, says children are having sex as early as seven years: "We cannot pretend that sex among young people is not happening. There are studies to prove it."

Education Minister Andrew Mulenga announced on Mar. 15 that any organization caught distributing condoms to schools would face "the full wrath of the law" - and that the contraceptives should only be made available in tertiary institutions.

Zambia's Minister of Health, Brian Chituwo, has thrown his weight behind the policy change, arguing that primary school pupils were too young to be given condoms. They might, he added, see it as a licence to have sex.

"We are sending the wrong message: we are saying it is okay to have sex because we even have something to protect you. At these ages we should be advocating total abstinence," said Chituwo.

But Luo claims there is no statistical evidence to back up claims that condoms promote greater sexual activity among adults or children.

"Condoms are there for people already having sex. If there was a way we could physically stop people from having indiscriminate casual sex, we would have done it - but we don't. That is why there are condoms," he observed.

As for the students at the centre of this debate, they appear to have been left out of the discussion.

Nomsa Chileshi says no one has ever talked to her about whether she's sexually active or not - or asked her if she wanted to have condoms on schools premises. "They sort of just appeared and we got used to having them around," she told IPS.

"It's not all of us who have sex, but for those who do, they should be allowed condoms," she added. "We cannot afford to buy condoms, so if we get them free it is good. Taking them away means unprotected sex, because for sure no one is going to give up sex."

Her friend Chansa Mulalami says that while "big people" pontificate about how promiscuous the younger generation is, they tend to forget that most adults were getting married in their teenage years - and that opportunities for pre-marital sex were more limited. There is nothing noble about their relative abstinence, she adds: it was the result of circumstance.

"In the olden days, girls at 10 to 12 or 13 were married off. That means they were having sex at that age. These days, girls that age have the sex but are still in school, that's the only difference. So its not such a big moral issue that big people make out," notes Mulalami.

The United Nations Human Development Report for 2003 says that according to the latest available figures, HIV prevalence in Zambia stands at about 21 percent. Schools in the country have included information about HIV in their curricula: children from the ages of six to 16 are taught about the dangers of AIDS.

Former President Kenneth Kaunda, who lost a son to AIDS, has said that it took him a while to accept the use of condoms as a means of curbing HIV transmission. However, he now encourages young people to use condoms "if they cannot contain the fire within them".

Source: IPS/GIN

Add your response to Readers’ Corner


Angola's Decision May Disrupt Aid

Gels Tested To Prevent HIV Transmission

Aids Activists Angry At School Ban On Condoms

Across Africa In 21 Days

Zambia Making Strides In Women Education

Zambia To Enact Law To Prosecute Willful AIDS Spreaders

Ugandan Bikers To Ride 6,000 Kms For AIDS Campaign

Global AIDS Alliance On Upcoming Bush Detailed AIDS Strategy: Will The President Waste Money On Brand-name Medications?

Good Health:-GMO: Biotechnology Or Health Hazard?

Immunitor Files Application For Phase III Clinical Trial

Zambia's Capital Closes Schools, Market To Contain Cholera Outbreak

GM Foods Dangerous If Used As Main Meals

Arts | News Front | Perspectives | People | Business | Metals | Dinar Files | Health | Sports | Environment | Tech Files

Readers' corner | Community | Temple Web | Announcement | Mailing List | Newsletter | Contact Form | Search From

©2004, Zambezi Times 

zto news