Pretoria - The Department of Basic Education (DBE) recently announced the finalisation of the learner health policy that paves the way for marked improvement in addressing the sexual reproductive rights of young South Africans.
The policy which allows for a roll out of condoms at schools for children 12years and older, does not require the consent of parents or the school governing body.
While it has been a contentious issue in the media in recent days, this policy is being backed by leading children’s rights organisation, Save the Children South Africa (SCSA), who assisted in lobbying for the policy change and played an active role in the consultation process.
“We have been advocating for a more proactive policy that directly addresses the needs of young people, because we are seeing an increase in new HIV infections especially amongst girls between 15 – 24 years of age. And yet, up until now, the very space in which many of these young girls spend most of their time – at school – did not provide the protective resources they needed,” said Sue Jones, SCSA Health and Nutrition Thematic Lead.
The consultation process leading up to the final policy was lengthy and involved a wide variety of stakeholders, including community members, religious leaders, non-profits and schools. It was important to involve multiple stakeholders in defining the policy, however it is also essential that the sexual and reproductive health needs of adolescent and youth are realised and accommodated. The policy now makes way for strengthened access for adolescents and youth to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services by allowing mobile health units to access schools, providing a much more convenient and friendly way to support learners.
Jones explains that while the policy has its “loop-holes”, it is still “a good start in recognising that contraception needs to be made much more accessible to adolescents and youth”.
The new Integrated Policy on HIV, TB and STIs will replace the departments 2011 policy which allowed parents, traditional leaders and school governing bodies to “opt in” to provide students with access to free condoms at school. However, few schools opted in as school governing bodies were not equipped in communicating the value and benefits of the services provided for in the 2011 policy to parents and community leaders. As a result, schools did not opt in and many cited religious, cultural or moral reasons.
“School governing bodies still have the option to ‘opt out’ of this new system. However, we are encouraging schools, parents and community leaders to abide by the policy and prioritise the safety, health needs and rights of their children,” added Jones.
In light of the new policy, Save the Children South Africa has urged government to make sexual health and reproductive education more comprehensive, age relevant and a priority.
The organisation has also reaffirmed its commitment to working with government, schools and parents to ensure children are able to access their sexual reproductive rights and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
For more information or to set up an interview contact: Lois Moodley on 0724401519 or [email protected]
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