13-19 February 2011 marked the STI/Condom Week in South Africa aimed not only at reducing the spread of STIs but also to curb the spread of HIV. City Press held a roundtable video discussion with learners from Phandimfundo High School in the East Rand, in Johannesburg, to get their views on matters relating to HIV awareness and the current voluntary counselling at schools proposed by government.

The views of the children were published in an article entitled “They think HIV is just a story” (City Press, 20/02/2011, p.8). The article gets a GLAD for giving learners a voice to speak out on issues they face relating to the epidemic.

Some of the revelations that emerged from the discussion were that the youth do not fear contracting HIV and that young girls are putting themselves at risk by having unprotected sex with older men in exchange for money and fancy gifts. Poverty was cited as a major contributor to relationships between these girls and older men also known as “sugar daddies”. “Girls won’t say no to sugar daddies when they don’t want to use a condom, because they buy them presents and give them money for hairstyles,” said one of the pupils.

The learners also indicated that there was too much peer pressure on the youth to have sex, and that their peers use sex as a way of “strengthening” love and relationships.

Discussing government’s proposed plan to introduce voluntary counselling and testing services for HIV in schools, the learners said that the move will only exacerbate stigmatisation and suspicions attached to HIV. This should be commended as it gave the children an opportunity to add their views to the current debate on this issue.

The learners also raised the need for parents’ involvement in HIV education, and indicated how difficult it is for young people to have open discussions with their parents about sex. The article stated that this is despite the prevalence of messages of safe sex and HIV awareness in mass media.

It went further and made use of statistics regarding the issue, showing the number of people who have already tested for HIV and those who still need to be tested. It then sourced findings of a study that was done on condom usage, and included expert analysis on the issue.

Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) commends City Press for giving the learners a prominent voice and allowing them the opportunity to talk about these issues. These are refreshing views especially when taking into consideration, reports published by MMA which have shown that media seldom give a platform for children’s voices to be heard.

This article however was driven by the learners’ opinions on the subject and took their perspective whilst portraying them in a positive light.

We look forward to similar reports from City Press.