Azhar Vadi | Cii News | 05 February 2013
10 595 school learners became pregnant in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal in the year 2011 alone. Figures released by the Department of Basic Education in previous reports make for even more shocking reading. During 2009-2010, 27 631 pupils between Grade 3 and Grade 12 fell pregnant in the province. Nationally, the figure was 94 875. In 2008 and 2009, 18 learners from Grade 3 fell pregnant in Kwazulu-Natal. The average age of a Grade 3 pupil is 10-years-old.
The KZN Department of Education along with their colleagues in the Department of Health have presented a plan to distribute condoms at both primary and secondary schools in an attempt to reduce child pregnancies.
Last year, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi clarified the manner of distribution, claiming that it would be done in a responsibly. Distribution can only take place at a specific school if permission is granted by the School Governing Body (SGB).
“Pupils would be offered counseling as part of the department’s Integrated School Health programme. We are not going to park outside schooling facilities, line up the pupils and tell them to fetch condoms from us,” Motsoaledi told the media.
The move has however drawn criticism from various faith bodies, including a response from the Jamiatul Ulama Kwazulu-Natal (Council of Muslim Theologians). Spokesperson, Moulana Rafiq Muhammad, told Cii Radio that the proposal by the provincial government “boggles” the mind. “Surely, it sends shock-waves through the community. We can understand the concern that so many young children are falling pregnant but what is really amazing is how the authorities intend on tackling the problem.”
Moulana Muhammad drew a similitude to matches and explosives being in close proximity to fuel resulting in huge explosions. “Instead of trying to separate the fire from the fuel, what we are doing is distributing fire extinguishers. The logical thing to do would be to remove the cause of the fire. Remove the matches.”
Last week, Education MEC Senzo Mchunu, was quoted by The Mercury as saying he was concerned about the social ills which plagued schools in the province.
“And it is exactly what we want school governing bodies and parents to discuss. We no longer need to be ashamed to accept that children are sexually active at a young age,” he reportedly said.
Moulana Muhammad highlighted the prevalence of co-education as a leading cause of the problem saying that despite the logistical difficulties, steps can be taken to move towards separate education facilities for boys and girls. “Instead of distributing condoms, we should be focusing on avenues aimed at improving morality and character.”
When the issue was initially brought forward in 2012, Allen Thompson, deputy president of the National Teachers’ Union (Natu) disagreed with the suggestions of religious bodies like the Jamiatul Ulama KZN.
“We cannot shy away from the fact that young children are sexually active,” Thompson told Independent Newspapers. “We cannot focus on ethics when the world we are living in is unethical.”
Imtiaz Sahib, the principal of the Hartley Road Primary School in Durban, told Cii Radio that the ethos and circumstances surrounding a specific school would dictate whether condoms would be given out to learners. “Our board (SGB) in consultation with our parents will not be rolling this out. We have very responsible students and the development of character is high on our agenda. Therefore abstention is the key.”
Mr. Sahib distinguished the morals or guidelines set out by the Muslim community as opposed to those that were generally prevalent in other communities in South Africa.
“In the general population that do not follow our particular religious believes, it (condom distribution) is driven by a situation where teenage pregnancy is at an all-time high and even if they want to roll out condoms it should be with the ABC. This was initially proposed by the state. ‘A’ stands for Abstain. ‘B’ for Be Faithful. And ‘C’ for Condomise. So, I’m not sure if it was right to move to point number 3 without teaching young people to abstain from these particular vices.”