Editorial: The kids aren’t alright – they’re exposed to HIV

No, the kids aren’t alright. They’re having sex even younger and aren’t using condoms.

This week, the Human Sciences Research Council released findings of its fifth South African national HIV prevalence, incidence, behaviour and communication survey after interviewing 33 000 people countrywide and testing 24 000 for HIV.

While there was a lot to cheer about, such as the significant decline of HIV incidence by 44% since 2012, the youngsters’ behaviour is cause for concern.

Mpumi Zungu, co-principal investigator of the survey, said it showed that consistent condom use was very low and more children, especially boys, were making their sexual debut before the age of 15, compared with 2012. Of males between the ages of 15 and 24, who have multiple partners, 68% reported using a condom at their last sexual encounter, compared with only 47.3% of females the same age.

And, according to the survey, more than a third of young women had sexual relationships with older men, leaving researchers believing that the reduction in new infections was likely owing to the expanded antiretroviral treatment programme rather than wiser sexual behaviour.

“It is clear from the study that a large percentage of respondents did not consider themselves to be at risk,” said Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi.

So why do this country’s kids have the bravado to think they may be immune to contracting the country’s fifth leading natural killer? And what can we do differently in our homes, where children’s founding attitudes and behaviours are formed, to better inform them about sex and HIV?

Sex education, including the importance of safe sex, starts in our homes. We can’t rely on schools because as Motsoaledi lamented, when he tried to get sex and reproductive education introduced several years ago, unions and parents rejected it.

So, parents and caregivers, who will teach your kids if neither you nor the schools are doing it?