UNICEF supports S. African comprehensive sexuality education

June 2, 2015 5:15 am 

CAPE TOWN, June 1 — The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) on Monday voiced support for South Africa's comprehensive sexuality education, which includes distributing condoms to school learners.

UNICEF and its partners support the Department of Basic Education's (DBE) proposal for making available sexual and reproductive health services in schools, the organization said in a statement emailed to Xinhua.

"UNICEF South Africa and our partners welcome and support the Department of Basic Education's Draft National Policy on HIV, Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and TB (tuberculoisis) released on May 5, 2015 for public comment," the organization said.

The DBE is considering distributing condoms to learners at primary and secondary schools as part of the government's move to curb the prevalence of HIV, but the proposal has been met with strong opposition.

The public have been given 21 days to respond to the proposal, which forms part of the integral Draft National policy on HIV, STIs and TB.

DBE spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga told Xinhua earlier that they put forward the proposal taking into consideration that a lot of learners are HIV infected.

"Some of the pupils are HIV positive, and or are on ARV (antiretroviral therapy). We're faced with a challenge where most of the pupils are growing up without parents, or with parents who have died as a result of HIV/AIDS and TB," said Mhlanga.

UNICEF endorsed this policy at a roundtable held on May 27, 2015 in Pretoria during which the provisions of the policy were discussed including the provision of sexual and reproductive health services and rights (condoms and HIV testing) in schools.

UNICEF commends the move for a comprehensive, bold, progressive and rights-based policy geared towards ensuring that all children, including the most vulnerable enjoy the right to quality basic education by addressing key health and social barriers to teaching and learning, the UNICEF statement said.

The policy also endeavors to deliver on rights of children, educator and school support staff to health by making available a comprehensive package of sexual and reproductive health information and services including access to condoms and HIV testing in school, said the statement.

"This is in keeping with the global strategy (that 90 percent of those living with HIV will know their HIV status, 90 percent of those eligible are on treatment, and that 90 percent on treatment are virally suppressed) to end the HIV epidemic, to which South Africa is a signatory," the statement added.

The Draft Policy recognizes the level of sexual activity amongst young people (36 percent amongst Grade 8-11 learners according to the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey) resulting in early pregnancy and risk for HIV-infection. This not only limits positive health and social outcomes, but also compromises educational and economic opportunities for young people.

There is a range of data from across the world demonstrating that talking to young people about sexual and reproductive health and rights provides them with the knowledge and skills to make informed decisions.

Importantly, sexuality education does not increase sexual activity amongst learners, UNICEF said, adding that there is also evidence to show that the distribution of condoms in school increases safe sex practices and does not increase sexual activity amongst young people.

Making available condoms and HIV counselling and testing to learners in school is the next critical and necessary step as part of a comprehensive approach to accelerate the decline in HIV- infection rates and early pregnancy amongst young people, UNICEF said.

UNICEF South Africa and its partners therefore fully support the DBE's policy position on comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services and look forward to working together to implement the policy, the statement said. (PNA/Xinhua)

LAM/EDS

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