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Adolescence And Human Rights - Adolescents And Sex

Sex is generally a very political issue, as we well know. It’s politicisation is arguably premised on patriarchal standards, that insist on the authority of men, and maintaining this power and control over women and all others who are perceived less deserving of this power and authority, as well as gender stereotyping.

Quite obviously, adolescent sexuality, sexual health, sexual rights and sex education by far, is more political and disputably, more controversial. It is on this background that this most unpopular opinion is postulated. It may be an uncomfortable read. But let’s be a bit more honest with ourselves.

The starting point, I would say, is the admission and acknowledgement, that adolescents are sexually active. This is not a new invention, nor a consideration of “bana ba malatsi a” as most puritan, religious or traditionalist parents try to reconcile or reason it as. In almost any given society, in a world so obviously made smaller by the rapid growth of technology, sex is becoming less and less a taboo, and increasingly a daily confrontation.

However there are very obvious gaps left by the silences, as discussed in the previous piece on adolescents. Most parents leave the duty of educating children, and adolescents on sex, sexual health and sexuality, to schools, and passively, by failing to engage, the responsibility is also left to other sources. It almost becomes a case of the blind leading the blind, in most instances.

The education dispensed by schools and that previously led by regiments, I suspect, differs tremendously. Expert in this field, Catriona Mcleod, has found that the education system essentially dispenses sex education with a lens of danger and disease, which is limiting. Specifically danger as is taught at school, relates to early pregnancy and abortion, where disease relates to non-normative relationships. The intention is that these teachings will motivate safer sexual behaviour among adolescents. This position, in my opinion closes the door of discussion with their teacher, or parent, or guardian. This fear based approach shuts down any chances of open communication.  Often, adolescent end up engaging in sex hurriedly, and unprepared to deal with the physical, emotional or psychological consequences, as a result of the incomplete, or inadequate information they receive about sex.

On the other end of this, is faith based or religious beliefs and teachings about delaying sexual debut, until marriage. Although admittedly, this may have positive attributes, experts on this Godfrey Kangaude and Tiffany Banda observe that the ways in which the teachings are made is rather problematic. Most of the teachings that derive from this position largely contribute to the denial of important information and services to adolescents who would need them. The challenges of the consequences of hurried sexual debut range from early pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections to sexual exploitations. Of course these are not per se peculiar to adolescents, but they

are more prevalent at this stage. These can, however, readily be addressed by various international principles, deriving from international conventions which Botswana has ratified. Some of these are even espoused in our very own Children’s Act.

Kangaude and Banda suggest that the most central of these principles are those of equality and non-discrimination. The right to not be discriminated against as well as the right to equality is the foundation of the argument to provide sexual health services to adolescents.

The realisation of these rights may require special positive measures by states. The lack of ensuring the provision of these is essentially a failure to respect the rights that an adolescent has to the highest attainable standard of health.

The second principle, is “the best interests of the child”. Where decisions are made regarding children, whoever makes the said decision should take into account how the rights and interests of the child will be affected by the said decision. So in deciding to not make condoms accessible in schools for example, are we really curbing sexual conduct between adolescents? Or are we simply making it riskier? Because at the end of the day, as a lived reality, many adolescents are engaging in sex, whether encouraged or discouraged to do so.

Another suggested principle is that of “survival and development”. The idea here is that as adolescents become “sexually mature and active”, they should be accorded the necessary skills to avoid harm and nurture attitudes that positively promote behaviours that healthily endorse sexual health.

I am careful to state here that this is by no means a piece encouraging sex between adolescents. It is a call, instead to actors and stakeholders, particularly parents and guardians, to take a transformative approach in dealing with or addressing the many challenges that come with adolescent sex. It is notable that at the stage of adolescence, children start to develop ideas about who they want to be, and the roles they want to play in their communities and society. Growing beyond their immediate family and the stage at which teacher’s opinion is of paramount importance, they start to pay more attention to their peers.

This invariably means that they are notably more vulnerable to certain risk. These risks are largely the same for boys and girls. However, socialisation as well as gender stereotypes play significant roles in the risks that come with sex and sexuality. The ineducation or at least inadequate or incomplete education of adolescents presents a cycle that needs to be broken, or faced head on.

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