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Families helping to drive home abstinence messages

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22.MAY.09

Many often believe that pushing abstinence as part of an ABC (Abstain Be faithful Condomise) strategy in HIV/AIDS campaigns is not a practical message for teenagers.{{more}}

But a recent study on the “Response of Teens to HIV/AIDS Prevention campaigns” conducted on behalf of the UNICEF Barbados and Eastern Caribbean Office, shows that the abstinence message is still one which is resonating with a large body of the region’s teenagers.

Indeed, 62.5 per cent of teenagers from secondary schools in Barbados, St Kitts and Nevis and St Vincent and the Grenadines, who participated in the survey, reported that they never had sex. Disturbingly, however, only one-third of those engaging in sexual activities reported consistent condom use.

The study revealed that the opinion of family members was the main reason teenagers chose not to have sex, even in an environment where the majority of teenagers appear not comfortable talking to their parents about sex specifically.

Slightly over half (51 per cent) said the opinion of family members was very or extremely important in their decision not to have sex. Family was a stronger influence on girls with only 12. 3 per cent of females reporting that their family’s opinion was “not important at all,” while 22 per cent of boys reported that their family’s views were not important.

The survey also demonstrated that teenagers were more comfortable talking to their parents about HIV than about sex generally. Some 67 per cent reported that they were “very or somewhat comfortable” talking to their parents about HIV, while only 38.3 responded that they were comfortable talking about sex.

There were no major gender differences in relation to talking to parents about HIV, however, girls were generally less comfortable talking to their parents about sex, with more than a third – 35.1 per cent- reporting being very uncomfortable as compared with 23.0 percent of males in a similar category.

To find out the impact of peer influence the survey posed the statement: “My friends encourage me to have sex”. One in five respondents agreed that their peers were encouraging them to have sex with a gender analysis showing that peer pressure was considerably stronger among males at 36.6 per cent as against females at 9.8 per cent.

Conversely, whereas 60.6 per cent of females strongly disagreed with the statement, the corresponding figure for males was 25.5 per cent.

When the statement : Most of the people in my class are having sex” was posed, the majority of respondents (54.9 per cent) indicated that they were not sure if this was the position, while 34 per cent agreed or strongly agreed with the statement.

In outlining the way forward, the teenagers asked for more television advertisements using more teens in them, especially teens who are infected by HIV, but one of the key recommendations coming out of the study is that HIV prevention campaigns be coupled with life skills bases education, such as the Health and Family Life Education programme taught in some schools in Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean.

Focusing on the topics of Self and Interpersonal Relations, Sexual and Reproductive Health, Eating and Fitness and the Environment, HFLE uses interactive teaching methodologies to impart skills such as refusal, negotiation, conflict resolution, self-esteem (which is crucial to overcoming fear and embarrassment) among others skills.

Some countries have policies on HFLE in schools, while others do not. From interaction with students, including with those participating in the focus groups of this study, it appears that students would like HFLE to be taught to all their peers, but feel it is not taken as seriously as it should.

Perhaps it is time for policy makers in education to revisit HFLE to see how it could be further strengthened to compliment HIV prevention messages as one of the solutions in the fights against AIDS.

For more of the study’s findings please visit www.unicef.org/barbados or contact pknight@unicef.org

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