Carine, “If a child is already an adolescent, then it’s probably too late”

Carine, 15, is a student and AIDS activist from Togo. While attending the international conference on AIDS and sexually transmitted infections in the Senegalese capital Dakar in early December, she spoke to IRIN about her frustration over youths’ lack of access to practical information on sex and avoiding HIV.

“Adults think we are too young to [hear] anything about sexuality. Even when you reach 12 or 13 years old, they still think you are too little. They think you should be an adult – 18 years old – before you can know about it.

“At home, our parents rely on traditions and religion. The Bible prohibits sex before marriage so people think that if they talk to their children about [sexuality], the children will immediately start having sex. But this is not true.

“My father works for an HIV prevention campaign. He knows he should talk to us about it, but his psychology has not yet changed. He still thinks children shouldn’t know, even though children will grow up and will have to discover [sexuality] themselves.

“Even at school, we’re not taught about sexuality. When we get to secondary school, there is a module in Biology class that talks about reproduction, but they only talk about the organs – how it works is a taboo subject.

“Some teachers are embarrassed and others are just not informed. They read out the minimum of information. If a child asks a question they just say, ‘You should understand only that 1 plus 1 equals 2.’ And that’s it, full stop.

“My fellow students really don’t know what they are doing. They think that life is all about having a boyfriend or girlfriend to go out with, to have sex with.

“In our school, people came with the abstinence message “A-B-C: Abstinence, Be faithful, use Condoms”. But they don’t explain why we should we abstain. What are the advantages of abstinence? How can we practice faithfulness? How do you actually use a condom? They just give you ABC, ABC, ABC.

“It’s better to prevent than to treat. If a child is already an adolescent, then it’s probably too late. I think even from 10 years old children should have the necessary information. The child needs to be ready.

“Before, I really wanted to have a boyfriend like my friends, go to bars, do everything, and even have sex. But I’m only 15 years old. Because I had the opportunity to get information from [NGOs], I was able to understand about sexuality and I stopped all of that. Otherwise, I don’t think I would still be a virgin today.

“And that’s what our parents want – for us to be virgins before marriage.

“It’s not true that if you give information to children, they will go off and have sex. If you are vaccinated, you are protected; if you are not vaccinated then you open yourself up to problems.”

See report on youths calling for sex education