By Moses Chibaya AND Kudzai Chimhangwa
CHIUNDURA — A long and winding dusty road with thorn bushes and drying foliage on the sideways leads to a small growth point bustling with activity.
At the growth point in Chiundura Ward 10, scores of people, both young and old, sit under a huge tree within a spacious school compound.
This is the venue for a meeting organised by the Southern Africa HIV and Aids Information Dissemination Service (SAfAIDS) and Padare (Men’s Forum) to discuss issues of reproductive health and sexuality.
The discussions are centred on how best the community could deal with sexually active youths in the community in the face of the HIV and Aids pandemic.
But the proposal to distribute condoms to young people, including schoolchildren, generated much debate.
Although some villagers felt that distributing condoms to youths was morally and culturally wrong, most of them embraced the idea.
Village head Smart Ngwegwe said distributing condoms among the youths would promote promiscuity.
He said instead of dishing out condoms, children must be properly raised and taught good morals and cultural values.
“Giving out condoms to young people, who are not married for that matter, will only lead to prostitution and destruction of our culture,” said Ngwegwe. “You come here and start talking about giving children condoms, it’s unheard of. No condoms please.”
He added: “Long ago, children were taught morals and behaviour. There was nothing like giving condoms to children, but now condoms are all over.”
But speaking at the same meeting, paramount chief Freddy Gambiza embraced the idea of distributing condoms in schools as part of wider efforts to curb sexually transmitted diseases and HIV.
He said most parents were failing to play a proper role in bringing up their children.
“Reverting to past ways (of doing things) is very difficult as a lot of things have changed. Children must be disciplined by both parents and teachers,” he said.
“We must encourage the use of condoms among the youths because there is a virus. It’s a reality and nowadays we have children that were born positive.”
The chief urged the community to move with time.
Another village head, Taurai Zigodo, concurred with Chief Gambiza, adding that distribution of condoms to young people would reduce HIV infections among youths.
“Young people must be given condoms so that they have protection whenever they have sex. It must be understood that when we talk about condom distribution, we are not motivating them to have sex, but we are protecting those who are already doing it.”
District Health Promotion officer, Irene Muhlazvenyika, advised youths to abstain but encouraged those that were active to use condoms.
“People have aired different views, but the majority of them agreed that children who are sexually active must be given condoms because you can’t stop those who are already doing it,” said Muhlazvenyika. “The most important message that we teach them is to abstain and wait for the proper time. The problem with today’s children is that a lot of things are shaping their thinking and understanding.”
According to the Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey of 2011, the country recorded the highest condom usage in the world over the last five years.