CLAD in his khaki school uniform, 15 year-old Pride Mupaso waves goodbye to his worried mother, Agnes. She cups her chin in her left hand, temporarily suspending her knitting as she stares at Pride, now a Form Two pupil at a local school, while digesting media reports that government and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) have joined hands in the “condomise” campaign that will bring condoms to 15-year-olds in schools.
BY MOSES MATENGA
Her dilemma is whether the strategy is wise and if it would not erode all moral values she had instilled in her son whose father died when he was only eight.
As Pride strolls to meet his friends, one of them a female colleague, Agnes says a little prayer, not wanting to imagine her son was now even thinking of having sex.
This is a dilemma many parents are faced with, especially with reports that government and UNFPA will distribute small-size condoms for teenagers at schools in a bid to prevent unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.
UNFPA in conjunction with government recently launched the “condomise” campaign where they distributed small-sized condoms to fit 15-year-olds and above.
At 15, in Zimbabwe one is usually a Form Two or Form Three student whose focus should be on studies; preparing for Ordinary Level examinations.
The decision by government and the other parties to literally introduce sexual intercourse to these children has generated heated debate in the country.
Many parents say the decision was “outrageous and inherently scandalous”.
Petros Muzondo, an author on HIV and Aids-related issues, said children needed God and not condoms.
“What’s the point really? Our children need God, they don’t need condoms. Even grown-up people are getting STIs and HIV. Are you telling me they don’t know of condoms,” Muzondo said.
“Others engage in unprotected sex even with a condom or more in their pockets.
“Adults even struggle to use them at times and I don’t think dishing them out to pupils will solve anything.”
He added: “Adults are contracting STIs and are dying with condoms in their pockets. We need not encourage debauchery in our children and confuse them with these kinds of things.”
The Zimbabwe Congress of Students’ Union (Zicosu) questioned the logic of such a move, arguing the country risked becoming the Biblical “Sodom and Gomorrah” because of moral decadence.
“[This is a] wrong move. Seriously, where is the country going to? I hope this won’t lead us into a Sodom and Gomorrah. Where has the 18 and above gospel gone to?” Zicosu said in a terse statement.
But MDC-T MP and parliamentary portfolio committee on health chairperson, Ruth Labode said although she was not aware that there were condoms being distributed, there was nothing wrong in having teenagers who were sexually active protecting themselves.
“If that happened [distribution of condoms] I wasn’t there. I did not attend,” she said.
Labode said critics had to be realistic and accept that some teenagers were sexually active.
“What is the difference when an adult is having sex and when a teenager is having sex. I don’t think there is a special condom for teenagers,” she said.
“On if they [condoms] should be availed, I say yes, I agree with that if they are sexually active.
“There is no problem there. There is need for them to be protected from STIs as well.”
UNFPA senior technical advisor Bidia Deperthes was quoted saying teenagers from 15 years needed to be catered for in the condom distribution as some of them had become sexually active.
“We have brought seven types of condoms. We have small condoms which are 49ml for the young people who start being sexually active at the age of 15 but cannot fit the adult sized condoms that usually slip off and exposes them to sexually transmitted diseases and HIV,” she said.
Deperthes also said the flavours and scents would attract young people who will therefore end up protecting themselves.
But reacting to the matter on social media, several people expressed mixed views, saying teenagers needed basics for their upkeep and education, but certainly not condoms.
“We need clean water, text- books, technology, proper shelter, support of teachers at schools and we don’t want condoms,” wrote a reader responding to the report.
“What is the legal age of a girl child to consent to sex? What does the law say about having sex with girls under 16? I believe the situation in Zimbabwe’s schools is not out of hand to warrant such a move. Condoms will only create an explosive uncontrollable, culture.”
Statistics show that 24,5% of Zimbabwean women between the ages 15 to 19 are married, an indication that teenagers are sexually active, hence some views validating the distribution of condoms to 15 year-olds and above.
The Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council referred questions to Annah Machiha, the national condom and STI coordinator with the ministry of health and child care, who was not immediately available to comment.