HARARE – “True love waits”, “don’t do a thing without a ring” and “abstinence is priceless,” are catchy slogans that youths are told to follow to prevent unwanted pregnancies and HIV.
But is the issue of abstinence practical or delusional?
Parents would love to think that their children will not encounter a situation where they would choose sex over abstinence, but the truth is, it is happening.
Debates on whether to teach comprehensive sex education and abstinence to today’s youth are ongoing.
Youth organisations believe that teaching youths abstinence will leave them informed but ill-prepared for the real world.
Yet the Health and Child Care ministry advocates for abstinence.
Evernice Munado, Female Students Network’s programmes officer, said abstinence was not practical.
“Things are moving too fast and a lot of these youths are having sex at a very tender age,” Munado said.
“We have been witnessing female students getting sexually transmitted diseases and some being infected with HIV.
“Women and girls need to know what to do in the event that their main plan has failed, there needs to be a plan B,” she said.
“Abstinence is not practical and measures need to be put in place to teach comprehensive sex education in schools in order to prevent the youth from being infected and unplanned pregnancies.”
David Chidende, a programmes officer with Youth Information and Education for Behaviour Change, said there was need for authorities to teach their children how to be responsible.
“Teaching comprehensive sex education and abstinence is a more practical and realistic way of tackling problems faced by the youth of today,” he said.
“Authorities need to demystify sex and teach children to be more responsible when faced with such issues.”
Chidende said youths need to be able to freely access information of sexual and reproductive health rights, whereas many supporters of abstinence-based approach to sex education also believe that it is morally wrong for people to have sex before they are married.
According to research, the main difference between abstinence and comprehensive sex education approaches is that the latter does not teach young people that they should abstain from sex until they are married.
Comprehensive sexual education does explain to the young people the potential benefits of delaying sexual activity until they are emotionally and physically ready.
It is an approach that ensures that they are taught how to protect themselves from infections and pregnancy, according to research.
Youth organisations believe that sex education plays an important role in HIV prevention.
Young people face unprecedented challenges among them STIs and HIV, high levels of teenage pregnancies, unsafe abortions and limited access to sexual and reproductive health rights.
The 2010/11 Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey reported a high rate of teenage pregnancies (21 percent), for the 15 to 19 years age group.
The adolescents fertility rate is higher in rural areas (120 per 1000 girls) than in urban (70 per 1000 girls) areas.
HIV prevalence is almost three times higher among women aged 15 to 24 (11 percent) than among men of the same age (4,2 percent) and is fuelled by inter-generational sex, according to UN agency, UNFPA.