Young people in South Africa are regularly infantilised, subjected to abuses of adult power and hypocrisy, and have had their needs and desires neglected. Unemployment, varying access to education, mixed messages about sexuality and gender, being caught between tradition and modernity, and being subjected to indignities in health spaces are significant challenges they face.
On the questions of sex, we are still failing to provide young people with open, honest and judgement-free information, advice and support around their emerging sexuality and the Life Orientation space has not proved to be the key to unlocking this dilemma. Research has shown ambivalence and misinformation are key factors in how LO is taught with learners being given messages about: danger, disease and damage; and rigid gender categories; in disconnected ways.
Schools are also not safe spaces for young people who are sexually and gender variant, on the contrary many schools are places of harm, hurt, humiliation and exclusion for queer youth. The extent to which schools have produced a cohort of critical young thinkers is debatable, but there is certainly evidence for an increased political awareness in youth as debates about our lacklustre track record in education highlight the need for a tertiary education system which is not only free but ideologically re-invigorated.
On HIV, South Africa has not responded well to the needs of young people who have been neglected in the prevention and treatment arenas. Young women are seen as an epidemiological group of interest, with higher prevalence rates than their male counterparts, and arguably greater expectations placed on them to manage the interest of older men (also called “blessers”), pregnancy and the moral burdens of their communities.