LAST week, I happened to attend the 5th Pediatric Conference on children infected and affected by HIV/AIDS at Kigali Serena Hotel.
Children’s representatives at the closure of the conference made several recommendations that included calling on the government to set aside one day annually for parents to discuss matters of reproductive health with their children.
Among their proposals was declaring a ‘National Family Day.’
This was perceived amazingly well and supported unanimously by all the children representatives from across the country. The summit organizers also vowed to to push for the children’s demands.
In a surprise remark however, Olivier Mugabowishema, one child representative while reading the children’s recommendations, shocked participants when he made a case against promotion of condom use among adolescents.
He warned of increased immorality among children should condom use be promoted. Instead he called on parents to offer children spiritual guidance and educate them on preserving the Rwandan culture which among other things emphasizes abstinence from sex before marriage.
“We are not amused when you advise us to use condoms. We beg you as parents to pray for us. We surely wouldn’t wish to engage in sexual activities as children with vision,” he said.
It was like drama as some parents were drawn into laughter while others remained speechless only nodding their heads.
This recommendation raised serious questions.
I asked myself whether the children are on a collision course with parents, partners and those who are behind the condom use campaign as one way of preventing HIV infection.
One participant asked me whether the children could be reading from the Catholic Church school of thought.
I have been listening to advertisements on radios where a child asks a parent to educate him on condom use.
However, I feel that this noble campaign may be threatened if children differ in their views after all they are the partakers of the campaign.
While at the summit, participants didn’t specifically react to this issue raised by the children. But I think there is need to find a compromised position on the promotion of condom use among adolescents — despite the children’s fear that it could promote immorality.
This simply places anti-AIDS activists in an uncomfortable position; either to drag along the children’s line of thought which seem to be against their goals or to go ahead with their campaign and well aware of the children’s position.
We cannot deny that the children are right in a way, but ultimately, they will be made to understand that not all adolescents can manage to abstain from sex because of their seemingly incontrollable conduct and raging growth hormones.
And in any case, condom promotion is in the interest of all children.
However, children have driven the condom use campaign in a direction that leaves AIDS activists with no choice but to promote condom use, irrespective of children’s support.
To me this is not okay. This campaign heavily relies and depends on the support of majority children in order to advance; in other words, condom use has to fully be embraced by all adolescents if it’s to succeed.
My advice for activists is to carefully extend the debate in schools and communities by highlighting the need for condom use, and also ensure that the children’s concerns are not completely ignored.