Youth risky behaviour shows decline, but minister still concerned

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Johannesburg - Although the 2008 South African National Youth Risk Behaviour Survey shows reductions in risky sexual behaviour as compared to a previous survey, Minister Collins Chabane remains concerned.

The survey, which was released today and focused on behaviours of young people between grade 8 and 11 showed that fewer school learners had ever had sex (from 41% to 38%) as compared to a previous study in 2002.

The national study conducted among 10 000 learners in 2008 also focused on risk behaviours related to infectious and chronic diseases, injury and trauma, mental health, alcohol and illegal drug use.

Of those who had sex, the number of school learners that had two or more sexual partners in their lifetime reduced (from 45% to 41%), and less learners had one or more sexual partners during the past three months (from 70% to 52%). Also, of those who ever had sex, the incidence of sexually transmitted infections reduced (from 7% to 4%), while consistent condom use increased slightly (29% to 31%).

However, the Minister in the Presidency responsible for Performance Monitoring and Evaluation is not impressed by the decrease in numbers, saying that from the 38% of learners who had reported ever having sex, 16% did after consuming alcohol and 14% after taking drugs.

"These highlight the highly unacceptable trends young people are faced with in society which all of us should protect them against.

"These are our children who still need our protection and guidance."

Minister Chabane said the programmes of government should begin to turn these figures around and develop initiatives that can discourage and detract young people from such risks altogether.

The survey revealed further that 15 percent of learners carried weapons, 19 percent belonged to gangs and 9 percent carried weapons on school premises.

On suicide related behaviours, 24% reported having experienced feelings of sadness or hopelessness, 21% had considered or attempted to commit suicide. 50% of learners also reported to have ever dranked alcohol and 30% having smoked.

Regarding unsafe traffic behaviour, more learners drove a vehicle after drinking alcohol in the past 30 days from 8 percent to 18 percent and were driven by someone who had been drinking alcohol in the past 30 days from 35 percent to 38 percent.

"These figures are a demonstration of a society which is failing in its responsibility to take care of its children, they also demonstrate that we have abdicated our responsibilities as parents and society," Chabane said.

He assured that government will engage with society and make sure that they protect young people in their homes and learning institutions against these dangers.

"The Monitoring and Evaluation Department will use this data and work in partnership with the Medical Research Council in future to gather similar data working with relevant departments to be able to introduce necessary interventions that will reduce the vulnerability of young people," he said.

NYDA Chairperson Andile Lungisa acknowledged the outcome of the research committing the organisation to implement and respond to the issues raised.

"We should be able to provide more answers than questions and our approach should not be scientific or general knowledge but have a clear action by working together with the scientists and respond directly to the issues affecting the youth," Lungisa said.

Medical Research Council's Health Promotion Research and Development Unit co-ordinator Professor Priscilla Reddy said the survey gave a window into the conditions young people face growing up in today's South Africa.

"Seeing where the stresses are on this vital part of the population will allow us to put precious resources to work in the best way," Reddy said.

While acknowledging a decrease in the youth behaviour, compared to the 2002 survey, Professor Reddy emphasised the need to find ways to intervene and move the boundaries further.

"We need to work hard to turn the situation around, if we intervene now, it will make a huge difference in the behaviour of the youth," she said.