Thursday, March 14, 2013

One Out of Three South African Schoolgirls are HIV Positive

News 24
March 14, 2013

At least 28 percent of schoolgirls across the country are HIV positive, according to statistics released by Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi.

The Sowetan reported that only 4% of boys at schools were HIV positive.

Motsoaledi released the figures at a National Council of Provinces "taking Parliament to the people" event in Carolina, Mpumalanga.

Sugar daddies to blame

"It is clear that it is not young boys who are sleeping with these girls. It is old men. We must take a stand against sugar daddies because they are destroying our children," Motsoaledi was quoted as saying.

He said 94 000 schoolgirls fell pregnant in 2011 across the country.

"About 77 000 girls had abortions at public facilities. We can no longer live like that. We want to put an end to it."

Some of the girls who fell pregnant - and tested positive for HIV - were reportedly between the ages of 10 and 14.

Motsoaledi said of the 52 districts in the country, the Gert Sibande district, in Mpumalanga, topped the list of HIV positive people.

(Note: the original headline to this story is "Almost a third of schoolgirls are HIV+)

Comment: These are terrifying and deeply troubling statistics.  Add this reality to the fact that one in four men have admitted to raping someone - leaves me to wonder about those who lie - and the crises becomes a problem of epidemic proportions.

This is especially true since the South African Medical Research Council (MRC) reports that 3600 women are raped each day - of these only 144 women report rape cases to the police.

In recent weeks news reports have indicated that the we have even run out of DNA kits for rape cases at police stations across the country.

It is little wonder that we are considered to be the "rape capital of the world" and that some commentators are talking about the problems in terms of a pervasive rape culture

There are several strands of pathology that need to be teased out to begin to come to grips with these statistics and what it means to be a South African in the post-apartheid era.

Foremost is the fact that we are an inherently violent and abusive nation.  Blame this reality on colonialism, apartheid, racism, poor leadership, corrupt government, poverty or a host of other factors but don't lose sight of the fact that violence is a structural fault in post-apartheid life and it can't just be wished away.

In the wake of the Oscar Pistorius case more attention has been placed on the statistic that a woman is killed every 8 hours by an intimate partner in South Africa.  And, this is considered to be an underestimate since 20 percent of perpetrators are not known or identified by authorities.

Twenty-five percent, or one in four, of the women who were killed by an intimate partner were also raped according to the MRC.

I expect that the vast majority of victims are found among the impoverished population but this fact must not delude us into believing that just because the vast majority of poor are black, this is a black problem or a problem caused by poverty.

In fact, even a high ranking cabinet minister and one of the richest men in the country, Tokyo Sexwale, is facing a divorce case in which his wife alleges violent abuse.

Rape is an act of violence and any man sleeping with a minor is being abusive and violently so; it is after all statutory rape.  Where HIV is transmitted a further charge of attempted murder should be leveled against the rapist.

That the health minister in the story above blames this situation on "sugar daddies" is mostly a surface reading of the extent or veracity of the crisis.

The overarching causal factor for violent abuse and rape is patriarchal domination - a fact made worse by pronouncements from President Zuma about the need for men to 'stand up' and take leadership positions in families.

This anecdotal nonsense about men taking up positions in families and, thereby, strengthening the nuclear unit is a conservative bias layered with patriarchal misconceptions.

There is no one kind of family and for generations women have been raising families - even extended ones - without a patriarchal penis for support.

I have nothing against 'traditional' nuclear family units.  Or men being responsible fathers and community members.  That is not my point.

My point is that the solution to the overall crisis is not a simple matter of mobilizing men into stronger traditional roles.

The crisis of violence against women - including rape and sex with minors - is one drawn from the pervasive reality that men wield uneven and consequently abusive power over women.

The power arrangement of patriarchy must be uprooted through structural and other interventions of the social and psychological kind, at the very least.  This means that any wide intervention is the business of government but it also about all of us outside of official circles.

We must build the kind of moral and ethical nation as a community that guards against the abuses of patriarchy; and we should recognize that the province of morals and ethics is not uniquely determined by religion, tradition or even culture.

A moral nation is a community guided by a deep commitment to human rights and its expression of egalitarianism as the foundation of freedom.

So, it is of little help that some men will stand up and protest their patriarchal role by pointing to the fact that they do not rape and abuse their positions.

We need to own up to the reality that men in charge is the overarching problem and that no patriarchal-based society or nation can be non-violent, egalitarian, and ultimately free.

For most men this is a bitter pill to swallow.

So I suggest a big glass of water and an enlightened commitment to call their privileges into question.

And we are not free.


(Update, March 22) : Alleman has pointed out here on the blog (see comments) that the figures widely quoted by the media in South Africa and picked up abroad are inaccurate.

He provided this link to an article by Julian Rademeyer that puts the number of HIV positive schoolgirls at half of what was quoted by sister publications The Sowetan and News24.

Rademeyer says the "HIV prevalence among South African women aged 15 to 19 in 2011, down from 14% in 2010" is 12.7% at present.

The Sowetan and News24 articles also referenced HIV positive infections of girls between the ages of 10 and 14.  Though it is not clear from either reading whether those infections significantly impact the overall rate of infection among schoolgirls across the country.

The figure of 28% was stated by the minister of health but apparently only in reference to a few schools in Natal Midlands.

I am not aware of any retractions of the story by The Sowetan or any other media outlet. 

That said, a 12.7% infection rate among schoolgirls aged 15-19 is still absolutely shocking and unacceptable.

A big hat tip to Alleman; thank you kindly.


Anonymous said...

I agree with your comment. However, the Sowetan story seems to be wrong:

Ridwan said...

Thank you very much for pointing out this update on the original story which I read at News24 Alleman.

I have not seen one retraction since The Sowetan/News24 articles appeared.

Africa Check has done a great job in calling the article into question.

I have posted the link you provided to my original post.

Thanks once again for taking the time to provide this important correction.