Are you saying that my 12-year old child is ready to test for HIV on their own? #ICASA2015

Are you saying that my 12-year old child is ready to test for HIV on their own? #ICASA2015

  January 14, 2016 7:06 pm


Written by young guest blogger: Gogontlejang Phaladi

Many countries in Eastern and Southern Africa continue to show gaps in the arena of better access to sexual and reproductive health for young people. During ICASA 2015, UNICEF facilitated the session “Age of consent for adolescents to access HIV services”, which was arguably one of the sessions with the most heated debate.

This session got me thinking – ‘why is the age of consent so controversial’?

Usually, countries in the region have a high age of consent (mostly 18 years), which means young people who are under this age cannot access health services and support without going with a parent. As a young person, I can say without a doubt that this becomes a huge barrier for us in getting information about our health, like knowing our HIV status. These situations prevent us from exercising our basic human right.

The sexual debut among adolescents is happening significantly earlier in the younger generation today. Harmful cultural practices such as child marriage are leaving many girls vulnerable to HIV infection and early child bearing, mother-to-child transmission of HIV, and even death. Lowering the age of consent could be one way of addressing these issues. It can help to eliminate these barriers to access health services and HIV testing.

However, on the other side of the debate, many worry about the protection of the child if age of consent is lowered. The session had some participants, many of them parents, asking: “is my 12-year old child ready to test for HIV on their own? Are they emotionally and psychologically strong enough to deal with the experience of HIV testing alone? What about the social responsibility of protecting, supporting and guiding a young person especially at that crucial phase in life?

When listening to both sides during this session, I realized that in the end, establishing sustainable open lines of communication between parents and their children is the first step. Reducing the age of consent may burn that bridge that opens a space for dialogue. With topics as sensitive and as critical as these, it is important to consider both human rights as well as social protection of the child when reviewing the age of consent.







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