Their elder peers of under 25 account for over 50 per cent of all new HIV infections in Tanzania.
Tanzania, being a country with close to 50 million population, whose 60 per cent belonging to youth category, the new HIV infection trend can be devastating to it’s economy owing to its would-be labour force having to entirely depend on the state coffers in treating the HIV/AIDS ailments.
With reasons for such lethal developments being so diverse but mostly boiling down to poverty and ignorance on the part of the youth and the community at large, the HIV/AIDS and other related interventions need to become flexible and adoptive enough to catch up with the societal dynamics.
The situation calls for the need to review the policies to ensure more public access to HIV/AIDS related information. The need-based HIV/AIDS intervention updates will help improve the already efficient but overwhelmed intervention strategies given the changing nature of sexual patterns in the society.
Currently, it is no longer considered odd for children as young as 10 years old to enter into sexual relations with either their peers or adults.
It is a kind of practice that did not appear over night, but the longstanding underworld culture short of going public under the pretext of traditional stereotype tabooing sex talks (education) with children.
Most societies in both developed and developing countries seem to shy away from educating the youth about sex for reasons attributed to immorality.
This presents its own challenge and could put into question the otherwise parental love for children since keeping silent is not tantamount to protecting them.
Paradoxically as it may sound however, opening up about sex with such things as condom use and other safe sex packages have also been and can still be viewed by many as encouraging the youth into engaging themselves in sexual relations, sometimes prematurely, leading to promiscuity and general moral decay in the society.
This dilemma is what has tricked governments around the globe to continuously act hesitantly in introducing sex education at lower school levels.
While the laws in most countries consider someone an adult after reaching 18 and thus sanctioning him or her to start having sex, teenage and unwanted pregnancies keep on increasing, suggesting a contradiction between the law and the reality on the ground.
Even the laws prohibiting sexual relations for under 18 years like Tanzania’s Marriage Act of 1971 which gives parents a room to give their 14 years old daughters for marriage is controversial in that it allows child sex on one hand and forbids it on the other. The law does not allow boys of the same age to get married.
Although only a few instances of female child marriages are currently reported, giving a course for speculation that the law has set up more of an ideal suggestion than a realistic standard with regards to the age of marriage, the situation on the ground gives a different story.
Despite having only a few underage girls openly getting married especially in rural areas, poverty has exposed more girls younger than 13 years to engage in out of wedlock unprotected random sex, giving more cause for concern with regards to the HIV pandemic.
This situation whereby young females are more exposed to the risk of contracting HIV compared to boys and adult males accounts for the recently announced statistics whereby women stand at 2.4 per cent higher than men in contracting the infection.
The figures reflect the need to review and update the intervention approaches to concur with changes in the society.
But the intervention should not be limited to the AIDS commissions and other centralized authorities.
It should rather take a complimentary top-down and bottom-up approach considering that the society needs to change its attitude and consider sex education to children a necessity to avoid social damages.
Perhaps there is the need to re-introduce and intensify the decade old campaign “Sema Nae” to encourage parents and guardians to talk to their beloved ones about sexual abstinence, condom use or faithful sticking to one partner as means to avoid contracting HIV/AIDS.
As part of the revamped efforts to addressing the problem of the growing infection among Tanzanian youth, the society must also admit and own the fact that young girls have been taken victims the most for their being taken prey by the unruly male adults.
Therefore, messages warning girls to stay away from adult males luring them into unwanted or poverty-induced sex should also be a priority in the behavioral change communication endeavour as it was the case with once famous “FATAKI” campaigns.
Such efforts should be supplemented with strong poverty reduction drive so that girls would not easily fall victims of unwanted sex regardless of own volition or parental pressure.
*Francis Semwaza is a Dar es Salaam-based Development Communication Specialist. For comments: E-mail: [email protected]; Phone: +255 71 646 6 044.