LET THE CHILDREN BE HEARD. SOUTH AFRICAN PRE-ADOLESCENTS GIVE THEIR VIEWS ON HIV/AIDS: A PHENOMENOLOGICAL STUDY
 
Elkonin, D.S. and Julies, Z., University of Port Elizabeth, South Africa
 
Since the late 1970s, 16.3 million people have died of AIDS. The pandemic has escalated particularly in Africa where South Africa has the highest new infection rates globally. At present (2001) 19.9% of the South African population is HIV positive with approximately half of these below the age of 25. Given the approximate 10 year gap between infection by HIV and death by AIDS, most infections appear to occur in late adolescence. Education programmes aimed at adolescents have failed to reduce the infection rate. Literature indicates that earlier education regarding HIV and AIDS for pre- adolescents may establish health behaviour that will protect this vulnerable group. In 2000 an international collaborative of the Departments of Health and of Education, assisted by researchers from the University of Port Elizabeth and funded by the Ford Foundation and the Centre for Disease Control in America, embarked on a three year programme for the development of HIV/AIDS education programs for pre-adolescents. The program is ongoing and has now extended to over 80 schools and 1500 learners and involves pre- and post-tests of knowledge and attitudes, plus focus group interviews with learners and teachers. This paper identifies the themes that emerged during a number of focus group sessions with pre- adolescent school children. Their thoughts and perceptions of HIV/AIDS, their views on the impact of HIV/AIDS on their lives, the roles they expect teachers and parents to play in educating and protecting them, are isolated and described.