SA piece of legislation received with mixed reactions (10-07-07)

By Mthulisi Sibanda

SOUTH Africa last week signed a new, but controversial law that allows children, more precisely girls aged 12 years and above to access contraceptives, engage in sexual relationship and abort if they deem it necessary without the conse

nt of their parents.

As CAJ News Agency reporter, Mthulisi Sibanda looks into the implications and benefits of the new piece of legislation, he files this report.

The updated Child Act comes at a time South Africa had passed another law that raised eyebrows with most churches and other pentecostal Christians when the piece of legislation passed last year allows a man to marry another man or a woman marrying another woman provided the two have agreed.

And last week, the South African government updated Child Act, which has been met with mixed reactions from HIV/AIDS organisations and parents as well as African communities.

The updated legislation came into effect this month, reducing the legal of majority from 18-21 years while giving children from the age of 12, among others, the right to access medical services such as HIV treatment and contraception without parental consent.

The latter, it appears, is the most emotive.

While some HIV/AIDS organisations maintained that the Act would stem the surge of teenage pregnancies and would not decrease the transmission of the disease among teenagers, parents and African communities argued that the legislation promotes premarital sex which in turn will fuel the transmission of HIV/AIDS among the youth.

AIDS Consortium director, Denise Hunt, said the legislation was ‘realistic’ in the sense that it took into cognisance that children were
engaging in sexual intercourse in their early teens and hence exposing themselves to HIV/AIDS.

Bout 5.5 million people are thought to be living with the virus in South Africa. This is the highest rate in the world.
Hunt said the Act, however ‘controversial’ would boost the fight against transmission and pregnancies among teenagers.

“The Act might be controversial but we believe it is realistic. It is relevant in a South African context considering such challenges as teenage pregnancies and HIV/AIDS resulting from unprotected sex among teenagers.

“We need to protect our children from such. It will be naïve to think that by withholding contraceptives from youngsters, they will not engage in sexual intercourse,” said Hunt.

Parents however beg to differ.

“By giving children as young as 12 the green light to access contraceptives without our consent, the government is giving our teenage
children the permission to engage in sex which I think will result in a surge of teenage pregnancies and HIV/AIDS taking into consideration that no one protective or contraceptive method is 100 percent effective.

Government should be promoting abstinence instead and not condoning immoral behaviour. This piece of legislation further alienates our
‘already spoilt’ children from us,” bemoaned, Minah Phakathi, a Johannesburg mother of two, one of them in her teens. “We as parents
should ensure that our children do not fall for such seemingly empowering laws,” she said.

Other critics of the legislation maintain that the updated Children’s Act is out of line with values that African communities instill on their

It is retrogressive in the fight against premarital sex, HIV/AIDS as well the instilling of discipline in youngsters “This is one of the most unAfrican legislations ever,” slammed Oliver Kubikwa, a Zimbabwean parent resident in South Africa.

“Government is taking this rights issue too far. It is unheard of in Africa to encourage children as young as 12 to engage in sex, whether protected or unprotected. Such ulterior ideology is not wise at all considering the high rate of HIV/AIDS in South Africa. Teenagers will jump into unprotected sex knowing they can abort. Such ‘too democratic’ legislation is retrogressive in the fight against HIV/AIDS,” he warned.

Tanzanian, Solomon Kambunga, echoes the sentiments, adding that government should have consulted parents and other sections of the community before updating the Act.

‘The Act seems to be giving children their much-needed rights with one hand and driving them into trouble with the other. It is taboo to talk about or even imagining teenagers as young as twelve engaging in sex,” he said.

Hunt however differs in that regard, maintaining that there should be co-operation between teenagers and their parents if the legislation is to prove effective.

“The Act is relevant to our context. Our children are vulnerable to HIV/AIDS because of situations that are not of their own doing. It is a
fact that they are engaging in sex at a young age.”

“We should however not ignore the consequences. Parents have to work alongside their children so that they are made aware of the consequences of their actions. Children should be educated in that regard and made understand that rights come with responsibilities,” she argued- CAJ News.

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