South African teenagers’ risky sexual behaviour is making the country’s fight against Aids an uphill struggle, say experts.
Globally, there are 33.4 million people living with HIV and 67 per cent of these are in Sub-Saharan Africa, according to United Nations figures.
And in South Africa which is struggling to deal with six million people who are HIV-positive, the prevention message is alarmingly slow in getting through to teenagers.
Dlamini, 14 says she is under constant pressure to fit in. "Being a virgin is not cool at all," she said describing the peer pressure she faces."Having the latest cellphone or wearing designer clothes doesn't make you cool anymore,” she told Agence France Presse news service. “You need that extra little something that will make people take notice. If you take pictures of yourself posing sexy or better yet have a sex video and post them on Facebook or circulate them... maybe you will be cool."
Nearly 14 per cent of pregnant teenage girls in South Africa are testing positive for HIV, according to official figures, which highlights how teenagers’ behaviour is a challenge Aids education campaigns still need to overcome.
Only 31 per cent of sexually active students said they regularly used condoms, and nearly one in five had been pregnant or made someone pregnant, found a survey released this year by the Medical Research Council.
And the low level of condom use is despite 65 per cent having been taught about HIV and Aids.
Dlamini (not her real name) said condoms can be difficult for teenagers to get hold of even if they want them. "It's not easy getting a condom because most people are shy of going to the garage and buying condoms and going to the clinic because nurses will humiliate you. So people rely on older friends," she said.
Peer pressure has "a huge role to play" in young people's decisions about sex, said Botha Swarts, at Johanesburg prevention group, Lovelife. "Seventy per cent of calls to our call centre are from young people pressured into doing things they are not ready to, for example sex to prove love, smoking, experimenting with harmful substances," she said.
"Safe sex campaigns must also contend with the realities of adolescent life in South Africa.
"What is often sexy to adolescents is the idea of risk itself. The power and mystique of raunchy, casual sexual encounters is promoted perpetually by the mass media. This is very difficult for safe sex campaigns to counter."