Free condoms and HIV tests will soon be available at all of South Africa’s primary and high schools, whether parents and governing bodies like it or not – but concerns have been raised that this could backfire.
Last week, the department of basic education released a policy making it no longer the prerogative of school governing bodies (SGBs) and parents whether pupils as young as 12 will have access to basic reproductive health services at school.
Until last week, SGBs were allowed to develop their own policies to address HIV infections among pupils.
In 2015, an estimated 266 000 South Africans became infected with HIV. Each week, there were about 2 000 new HIV infections in adolescent girls and young women aged 15 to 24 years.
CEO of the Governing Body Foundation Tim Gordon said while the organisation was not against such services reaching schools, it wanted the policy to be implemented with sensitivity.
“The part we are most concerned about is if there was simply a free and easy and open provision of contraceptive devices. I hope and trust that it will be sensitively handled,” he said.
“The first thing is there is a belief that it can be seen to condone or possibly encourage sexual interaction among children, which everybody would be against. Nobody is pro-sex by children.
“I know they will tell us there is no reliable research indicating that this would encourage sexual activity, but I have also not seen any reliable research that proves conclusively that it doesn’t.”
The department allocated R245 million towards the policy for the 2017 financial year to ensure pupils receive sexual and reproductive healthcare services and comprehensive age-appropriate sexuality education.
This would include contraception for pupils 12 years and older, as well as health services, such as screening for sexually transmitted infections – preferably in their home languages.
According to StatsSA, in 2013, 99 000 school girls fell pregnant. In that year, almost 20% of pregnant women in the country between the ages of 15 and 24 were HIV-positive. In the past two years, 1 449 primary school girls fell pregnant.
The Gauteng education department was not aware of when the policy would be implemented in the province.