Youths engaging in ‘too much’ sex
Sex is a controversial subject to talk about in Malawi. Ironically, sex before marriage is as prevalent as the silence on sex issues.
Balaka is one district where early sex debut and sexual activities are prevalent among young people. This is one place where a young man would not feel out of place for impregnating a girl.
“There is a deep rooted culture that says sex is not a sin and that impregnating a girl is part of life. Most young people believe that using condoms or being circumcised guarantees full protection from contracting HIV, yet these provide partial protection. At times, girls engage in sex due to peer pressure. They feel left out if they have no boyfriend,” says Balaka Youth District Network chairperson, James Hamdan Juma.
It is news in Balaka to learn that one has not had sex by the age of 13. When girls reach puberty, they are advised not to reject any sexual advances, he reveals.
The Malawi Demographic and Health Survey (MDHS) report of 2015-2016 says young people who initiate sex at an early age are typically at higher risk of becoming pregnant or contracting Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) than those that initiate sex at a later age.
The report says young people living in rural areas are more likely to have initiated sex by age 15 or 18 years than their urban counterparts.
Balaka District Youth Officer, Godfrey Mpinganjira, says, in the course of his duties in the district, he has established that there are many beliefs associated with sex which contribute to early sex debut.
“There are many beliefs about sex and sexuality. Girls are told not to refuse sex while boys are told that girls are there to please them. This is due to cultural or religious beliefs, which disregard women’s choice on their sexual and reproductive health,” Mpinganjira admits.
Mpinganjira says early sex debut is one of the drivers of the HIV pandemic in the district. The prevalence rate for young people is 11 percent yet that of the district is at 10 percent.
“This is an indication that something is wrong and we know that it is this culture of attaching too much value to sex among young people. We also established that young people have inadequate information about their sexuality, and that is why they find themselves in these situations,” he notes.
Mpinganjira highlights that information is scarce in rural areas and this is exposing young people to risky behaviours.
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) leaflet on young people says less than 40 per cent of young people have adequate knowledge on preventing HIV in the East and Southern African (Esa) region.
It points out that, across Esa, lack of knowledge also contributes to high rates of unintended pregnancy, sexual abuse, HIV infection and other STIs.
“Parents and caregivers who can be open about these issues with their children make a difference. The information young people receive is often surrounded by taboos and misinformation,” reads the leaflet in part.
It adds: “Getting involved as parents helps to ensure that the right information is shared at the right time in the right way as a young person grows up. Parents need to ensure there is an open, give and take conversation about sexuality as a normal part of family life.”
The MDHS says knowledge of HIV transmission enables people to avoid HIV infection. This is especially true for young people, who are often at risk because they may have shorter relationships with more partners or engage in other risky behaviours .
“In Malawi, 41 out of every 100 young women and 44 out of every 100 young men have comprehensive knowledge of HIV. This includes knowing that consistent use of condoms during sexual intercourse and having just one uninfected faithful partner can reduce the chance of getting HIV, knowing that a health looking person can have HIV, and rejecting common misconceptions about HIV transmission,” reads part of the MDHS report, adding that the percentage of young people with comprehensive knowledge of HIV has remained unchanged between 2010 and 2015/16.
Group Village Head Kwitanda of Traditional Authority Nsamala in Balaka says traditional leaders have been sensitised on Sexual Reproductive Health issues and that of young people and that they are working on eradicating harmful cultural practices.
“It [the situation] is not as bad as people may put it out there. Be assured that young women are given the respect they deserve. Nobody is forcing them into having sex or encouraging the youth to be having a sex spree. We are trying our part as parents but also bear in mind that we have a difficult generation of youths these days,” Kwitanda stresses.
But Hamdan Juma observes that the high sexual activity in the district is somehow due to idleness and the youth network has been trying to organise some activities to keep youths busy.
“We are trying to reach out to the youth with our own messages through youth groups or through dramas or anything that interests the youth. We have also incorporated sports. Sports is a powerful activity in that, when the youth are participating in sporting activities, they have less time to engage in sexual activity,” he says.
Christian Aid has come to the rescue of Balaka youths.
The organisation recently donated sporting equipment comprising 55 footballs, 55 netballs, 55 bawo boards and 55 chess kits to the youth of Balaka.
Christian Aid Programme Manager, Yvonnie Murindiwa, says the organisation noted that, apart from the high HIV prevalence, cases of avoidable teen pregnancies are also rampant.
“This donation is in line with UNAIDS’ Protect the Goal Campaign to which Malawi is a signatory. We want the youth of this area to be active and too busy to engage in these immoral behaviours,” Murindiwa says.
President Peter Mutharika signed the official UNAIDS campaign as an indication of his government’s commitment to supporting the implementation of the Protect the Goal Campaign in Malawi at national, regional and community levels.
This campaign aims at raising awareness on HIV prevention, and encourages young people to get actively involved in both the national and global response to HIV.
In Malawi, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and Aids and the Confederation of African Football (Caf) launched the campaign in late 2013.
The aim of the campaign is to use football as a platform for scaling up access to HIV information and services among the youth, as well as to mobilizing young people to commit to HIV prevention. The Football Association of Malawi, as an affiliate organisation of Caf, is mandated to develop and manage football in Malawi and has been contracted by UNAIDS to roll-out the campaign and implement localised activities through football clubs.
Goal three of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals aims to ensure healthy lives and promotion of well-being for all. This goal, among other things, targets to end the epidemics of Aids, tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases and combat hepatitis, water-borne diseases and other communicable diseases by 2030.
The SDGs fact sheet notes that Aids is the leading cause of death among adolescents (aged 10-19) in Africa and the second most cause of death among adolescents globally.
It is, however, Hamdan Juma’s wish that the sex activeness of the youths of Balaka— which is putting them at higher risk of contracting HIV— will change, if only the youth try harder in sports than other unhealthy practices.
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