Catholic Church rejects school condoms plan.

No condoms will be distributed at schools built on Catholic Church property, Cardinal Wilfred Napier, head of the church in South Africa, has dismissed the plan by the KwaZulu-Natal education department as ‘short sighted” and “immoral”.

Napier voiced his dissatisfaction about the move to curb teen pregnancies in a letter to MEC Senzo Mchunu. The MEC’s decision followed a conference last month to find solutions to sexual abuse, teen pregnancy and substance abuse in the province. But Napier-scheduled to leave for Rome on Tuesday to join the 118 cardinals who make up the conclave that will elect a new pontiff – has made it clear the church will not allow the distribution of condoms in its schools. There are about 108 Catholic Schools in KwaZulu-Natal.

Mchunu said about his decision: “The reality is that these children are engaging in sexual activities, whether we like it or not. While we need to evangelise spiritedly for total abstinence, we need to be realistic and distribute these condoms for those who will not heed our call”. More than 10 500 school children in KwaZulu-Natal were pregnant in 2011, he said.

In his letter, Napier said: “We share in your concern of the number of teenage pregnancies in schools and the suffering caused by the HIV and Aids. “We do our best in the Catholic Schools to provide guidance through religious education and by special courses delivered by suitably qualified experts. We shall continue to do that and will give it even greater emphasis.”

Napier told the Sunday Times: “As a policy, I am amazed that educators can have a short-sighted view that you solve a problem by dealing with the symptoms, not the root cause.”  He said it was the view of the Catholic Church in South Africa not to promote immorality or immoral behaviour. “I cannot understand how you introduce condoms to children of that age when legally they are not supposed to be engaging in sexual activity. “Once something is distributed is distributed by people in authority, children take it as an okay. I cannot understand the lack of insight into the psychological damage that is being done to the younger generation.”

Mchunu said the idea was not to leave “boxes of condoms” at school gates. There has to be controlled distribution. The governing bodies of schools are going to be directed to discuss this matter and see how many pregnancies they had last year. “Condoms will not just be handed over. There will be counselling….making use of people from the department of health once they have identified the need to distribute the condoms….it is not something that’s going to be put in toilets.

“They (the church) say the distribution of condoms amounts to giving children a licence to engage in sex even in schools. We have said: ‘Not at all.’ We are just being realistic that children are already engaging in sex. Condoms will not be bringing anything new to Children.”

He confirmed that condoms would not be distributed in the province’s Catholic schools.

“There are some public schools who have strong relations with Catholics. We will continue to talk to them, but have to respect their beliefs as well.”Napier said he was satisfied that condoms would not be forced on Catholic schools.

The spokesman of the National Department of Basic Education, Terence Khala, said it was up to school governing bodies and parents to decide whether condoms may be distributed. He said that in accordance with the 1999 national policy on HIV/Aids for teachers and pupils in public schools, governing bodies had to take the context of the school into account and decide whether condoms would be made available.

“This was reinforced by a joint decision of the school governing body associations, the South African Principals’ Associations, teacher unions and departments of basic education and health on the provision of sexual services for the integrated school health programme.”

Khala said the department had adopted a “comprehensive approach towards sexual and reproductive health” extending beyond condom distribution. It was up to the parent body of each school, in consultation with the governing body, to decide on condom distribution. “The decision will therefore differ among and within provinces.”

by Cardinal Napier O.F.M
Printed in the Sunday Times, February 2013

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