By GeorgeJim Githinji
Recently, President Uhuru Kenyatta launched a new global campaign to scale up the war against HIV/AIDS in a bid to reduce the rising incidences of HIV and AIDS among teenagers. Christened the â€˜All in the Campaign to end Adolescents AIDSâ€™, the campaign arises amidst shocking statistics that teenagers in the continent are getting infected with HIV/AIDS at an alarming rate and that HIV is the leading cause of death among adolescents in Africa. Some sections of the media and bloggers have however comically labeled the campaign as â€˜Condoms for Kidsâ€™.
Due to misinformation, this campaign has brought about infinite controversy just like the one witnessed last year during the parliamentary discussions on the Reproductive Healthcare Bill (sponsored by Nominated Senator Daisy Kanainza). There were false claims that the Bill intended to provide school going children with condoms.
Scores of Kenyans have gone ahead to demonize the government for intending to provide kids with condoms arguing that the move goes against their individual and societal concerns of morality, culture and religion.
Others have questioned the rationality of issuing kids with condoms rather than issuing them with laptops (an assurance from the Jubilee Manifesto), of which the money meant for the latter project has recently been diverted to supplement the national government budget in other sectors.
On Saturday, I had a conversation with some people regarding the same issue (of condoms for kids) and their arguments weighed heavily on condemnation. One of the persons said he would sponsor anyone who supports the campaign to a debate on the issue amongst a group of people from the grassroots. The obvious expectation is that the common mwananchi will oppose any such move by the government, not because they understand its implications, but because it goes against their perceived self-interest. The person even said that he would mobilize the people from his region to reject the campaign once the government intends to launch it in his locality.
Nevertheless, the direction that the media and the general public has opted to drive this conversation has visibly ignored various intricate and delicate tenets of sexual responsibility. It has leaned more towards conservatism and political correctness rather than towards objectivity and open-mindedness.
This issue goes beyond whether it is satisfactory or unethical to give adolescents condoms. It transcends into the span of how cognizant the adults and the society are towards sexually educating their children and opening up to their children about sex.
Sex education among many African societies has long been considered a taboo or embarrassing for parents to speak about to their children, even in the contemporary (modern) times. But teaching young children and adolescents about sex is a measure of progressive civilization and would increase the level of sexual responsibility in their teenage years. The level of sex education in our school curricula is inadequate and this is one area that ought to be given serious consideration.
However, the mainstream churches and some sections of the public seem to oppose any moves by the government to introduce greater sex educational substance into the school curricula under the pretext that that it will encourage the children to have sex, only to end up blaming the government for its inadvertent corrective measures. This notion puts false individual and societal ethics above the element of teenage protection and preservation.
The above statistics on the alarming level at which our African children are dying due to HIV, albeit shocking, distinctly illustrates that they are having sex before they are mid-teens. More so, this sex is unprotected sex which severely increases their chances of being infected with HIV and STIs. The society is living under the illusion that by protecting or preventing the children from having sex, it is doing enough enough to deter the children from sexual acts, but nothing could be further from the truth!
The solution to the whole conundrum, nevertheless, lies not entirely with the government but with the society. The society must wholeheartedly admit that it has failed its children and then adopt corrective measures to protect its offspring.
By giving children condoms, the government would deliberately be sending a message that it is frustrated and has lost control of the situation. The society, thus, has to regain control, rethink and reshape the whole conversation about adolescent sexuality, sex education and prevention of STIs.
For that reason, the society should shed off conservatism and other sectarian interests that labels conversations around sex especially with children as retrogressive or a shame. The society should stop seeing adolescents as fornicators and promiscuous persons just because chastity or abstinence seems not to be working.
The conversations on sex education should spring up at the family level and then spread to the schools and religious institutions. Otherwise, the society will continue to blame our generation but essentially overlooking where we come from, which is essentially from the same society.