A parent’s job is to guide their children safely to adulthood yet many parents or caregivers – for multiple reasons – neglect the very real risk to their children of contracting HIV. HIV is the second largest cause of death of adolescents globally and the first in Africa. New HIV infections are concentrated in older adolescents and young people, particularly adolescent girls and young women. South Africa has the highest number of estimated new infections per week – over 2,000 – among women aged 15-24.
Parents urgently need to have the difficult conversations with their children about sex, sexuality and sexually transmitted infections.
Parents play a vital role in prevention strategies for HIV – through their parenting practices, actions and by communicating values and expectations. Adolescent decision making and behaviour are influenced by many factors such as peers, the family, community and society. But parents in particular play a significant role in the gender and sexual socialisation of their children from an early age. According to experts in the field, the family is the social unit where the child learns acceptable behavior. This is where the child is supposed to experience safety, love and support.
The Networking HIV and AIDS Community of Southern Africa’s (NACOSA) suggests the issue cannot be ignored as South Africa has a very high number of children living with HIV, with estimates ranging from 330,000 to 450,000 of children under 15 infected. In fact, the number of adolescents dying from HIV-associated conditions has doubled in recent years.
Although schools, through the Life Orientation curriculum, play a role in providing young people with information about sex, sexuality and sexually transmitted infections, it is not enough to stem the tide of new infections among the youth in South Africa. Given this reality, more efforts need to be directed at decreasing the rates of new infections amongst school-goers.
Parents and young people report a number of obstacles to open dialogue, including lack of knowledge and skills, as well as cultural norms and taboos. Parents are often embarrassed to talk about these issues or they are culturally prevented from discussing sex and sexuality. But effective parenting for prevention is a potentially life-saving intervention so it is important for parents to overcome their embarrassment in order to raise happy, healthy and successful children.
NACOSA, in partnership with Child Welfare South Africa, recommends the following simple ways that parents or caregivers can become prevention champions as part of South Africa’s HIV and AIDS response. Firstly, parents should educate themselves on HIV and AIDS as there are a lot of damaging myths and misconceptions that fuel stigma and prevent people from getting access to services that will help prevent HIV. Good, accurate information is available from South Africa’s She Conquers campaign – sheconquerssa.co.za.
Sophie Hobbs is Sophie Hobbs is Head of Strategic Communications & Business Development at the Networking HIV/AIDS Community of South Africa (NACOSA)