BY MPHO KUHLMANN
One of the most uncomfortable mental images that thousands of Batswana parents shared was imagining their teenage children being taught to put a condom on a wooden, phallus-shaped object.
Be safe ÔÇö that is the message the exercise was supposed to convey. The message was however lost on hundreds of Batswana parents who immediately went up in arms.
Their target was the newly introduced sex education in schools. Among the more moderate was former Minister, Biggie Butale then a church minister and member of Botswana Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (BOCONGO). Although he took the middle of the road on the debate, his message captured the concerns of most parents: “I am not opposed to sex education as long as it sticks to the basics, such as male and female anatomy, matters of contraceptives and how a baby is made. Teaching children about sex positions, sex orientation and matters of sexual gratification is diabolical. It is no longer moral, it is immoral,” he said.
Eight years later, the condom and the phallus-shaped object seem to be hitting the right spot ÔÇô no pun intended. Principal Public Relations Officer atthe Ministry of Education, Basic Education, Joseph M. Wasubera told the Sunday Standard that sex is finally getting safer at Botswana Secondary School, although he did not say it in so many words.
“Teenage pregnancy in schools is minimal, sex education is incorporated in the curriculum and also taught during Guidance and Counselling lessons, this, because we find that a lot of parents are still reluctant and shy away from discussing sex or sex education topics at home. Recently, group counselling on pregnancy has also been introduced to female students in schools. There have been a total of 113 students who have dropped out of school because of teenage pregnancy in the first term this year. The number has subsided greatly compared to the past years. It has always been illegal for pregnant students to be kicked out of school because of their pregnancy and no school in the country has done that, in fact, it the parents who withdraw their pregnant children from school for health and safety reasons. With the involvement of parents, students are allowed to continue with their studies if they are fit enough, if they are not in a state to continue with their studies, students are allowed to pause their studies and continue after giving birth. A certificate of fitness is requested upon their wish to return to school.”
The new numbers are an improvement from ten years ago when teenage pregnancy was tottering on the brink of a national crisis.
A research carried out at the time: Perceptions of key participants about Botswana adolescents’ risks of unplanned pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and HIV: Qualitative findings. Revealed common sexuality problems among adolescents as
“Unsafe sexual practices: Some of the unsafe sexual practices that were mentioned included an early sexual debut and unprotected sex, multiple concurrent or serial relationships, and intergenerational sex. The key participants explained that the adolescents conducted their sexual debut at ~15 years, often with multiple concurrent or serial partners and intergenerational relationships with older people who are out of school. The girls engaged in unprotected sex with multiple concurrent partners more frequently than did the boys, both with boys in school and with older men outside school: Boys tend to have sex with age mates in schools. Girls do engage in sex with boys in school and with older people in the community. This creates conflict because boys become jealous about older men taking their girls. Girls engage in sex with multiple partners to gain money or clothes, cell phones, and hair styling and sometimes just for prestige of being in fancy cars.”
The research further revealed uncertainty about condom use among adolescents. “Although the key participants had a general notion that adolescents were engaging in unprotected sex, they could not confirm the prevalence of unprotected sex, condom use, or other means of sexual protection. But, they said condom use was unlikely, given the rate of school dropouts due to pregnancy. The key participants also said that condoms were not usually made available in schools, making it hard to draw conclusions about condom use among adolescents.””
Sex education in schools has also helped ease the burden off parents who are usually uncomfortable discussing the bees and the birds with their teenage children. Dr Sethunya Mosime, senior Sociology lecturer at the University of Botswana says, “Raising children as a single mother presents economic problems for women of all ages, but the problem is especially severe for teenagers with limited education and job experience. As all young people will confront their sexuality at some point in time, universal access to information and skills are required early on to enable them to make informed choices. As the primary socialising agents of children, parents are a trusted source of information about sexuality for young people. Yet this represents a missed opportunity because most parents lack both knowledge and skill to talk openly about sex and feel disempowered to parent their children in an environment that emphasizes. Family structural characteristics play a vital role in understanding and determining teenage sexual behaviour including pregnancy. Growing up in a single-parent home or without any parents places adolescents at elevated risk of early pregnancy. The family has a very early and extensive impact on an adolescent’s belief systems and values. Consistent parental values have been recognised as a vital factor that influences later sexual debut and decreases the risk of unintended pregnancies. Adolescents whose parents are clear about the value of delaying sex are less likely to have intercourse at an early age.”