Gender Forum With Ruth Butaumocho
Last week most parents were restive after the august House deliberated on a contentious issue, whether condoms should be made available to pupils and be placed in schools.
Responding to a legislator on the issue, Primary and Secondary Education Minister Dr Lazarus Dokora chose to play it safe when he enunciated Government’s policy which did not allow the ministry to distribute condoms in schools.
However, he indicated that since parents were a critical part of the child’s education, the onus was on them to decide whether they want to pack a packet of condoms alongside the lunch box and other trivia.
Being a mother to a teenage girl, I find the issue of use of contraceptives among school-going children unsettling.
Without appearing to be a pre-historic dinosaur, bringing the contraceptive issue on the table with my daughter has been the most delayed traumatising experience that I am yet to go through.
I also acknowledge that I might be creating a crisis for the future if I procrastinate on the issue, which is every parent’s greatest nightmare, shared across.
Parents across the board do concur that the levels of sexual activity among high school students and even those in primary school is on the increase, as attested by the number of reported teen pregnancies and cases of sexually transmitted infections.
The Zimbabwe Demographic and Health Survey (ZDHS) reports that nine out of 10 girls aged 15 to 19 are sexually active, are in some form of a marriage, and that two out of three girls first had sex before the age of 15, with or without their consent.
Despite the startling statistics, what most parents do not agree with is how to deal with the corresponding increase in sexual delinquency among the youth, particularly the use of different contraceptive methods like the condom. This is the dilemma most parents find themselves in.
It is for that reason any debate on giving school-going children contraceptives, particularly the condom, is met with trepidation and sometimes anger, because the discussion around the issue, let alone distribution of condoms, is perceived by many as tantamount to encouraging and promoting promiscuity.
However, while most parents ponder over the decision to introduce condoms to their children, or read the riot act instead, the use of contraceptives by school-going children, especially the condom, should be dealt in a holistic manner.
Distribution of contraceptives cannot be discussed in isolation and still be expected to solve a lot of problems around sexuality. Stakeholders should look at the problem of teen pregnancies, STI’s, consequential use of contraceptives outside marriage or other parameters where sex is deemed to be safe.
We should not hold prep talks with our children on the use of contraceptives to prevent teen pregnancies, HIV and coterie of other life-threatening diseases, without tackling morality issues, our cultural expectations as Zimbabweans and the importance of abstinence.
Even though the message of abstinence has been criticised by some sections of society as naïve and inadequate, it is still relevant in our Zimbabwean society and remains one of the effective methods of delaying sexual debut, with the benefits outweighing the negatives.
Rather than be caught up in the global euphoria on the use of the condom as the “magic bullet solution” in ending all sexually-related problems associated with the youth, let’s perfect messages around abstinence and teach our children to abstain until the time is right.
They should also be told about the beauty of abstinence, which could lead to the big white wedding, which by any chance is the fairytale event of every youth. Even if the big white wedding may not happen, but they can avert a lot of long-term calamities and positively influence future generations.
Teenagers should not buy the notion that if they use the condoms, they will be safe from HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, they are seriously misled.
Guarding against pregnancy and an STI is not good enough, and therefore we cannot allow the whole nation to be preoccupied by condom usage, a commercially driven strategy as the mainstay of the whole debate. There is need to look at the moral fabric of the whole generation and get an insight on the kind of adults we are grooming to take over, when we pass on.