SAfAIDS Zambia country director Gastone Zulu says engagement of learners in sexual activities with lecturers for better grades is a drawback in the country’s fight against HIV prevalence among young people which has not seen meaningful decline over the years.

And Zulu notes the importance of family in shaping society’s moral fiber, saying it is the basis of socialization.

In an interview, Zulu bemoaned the rate at which teenagers were contracting HIV in the country.

“We are still grappling with an increased HIV prevalence right now. We know that whilst we have seen some kind of reduction in the HIV prevalence, we know that there is a trend among our young people that shows that for them, the reduction is not even happening and this could be one of the contributing factors. Now, you see how a lot of stakeholders have gone out there to try and combat HIV but having this kind of behavior in the background is working against what we are all trying to fight which is a reverse actually in itself. It’s not helping the country, then it should not be surprising us that at some point, we have got a lot of teenagers falling pregnant, a lot of teenagers that are contracting HIV. These could be some of the contributing factors, and whichever way we look at it, something has to be done,” Zulu said.

“I think it’s important to just mention that we are also becoming increasingly worried with the developments of sexual relationships between learners and their teachers or lecturers because the thinking behind it is that a teacher/lecturer should be a second parent to a learner and when parents then release their children to these colleges, we expect that they should be in safer hands but then solicitation of sexual favors in exchange for better grades in school is an issue that all well-meaning Zambians need to really be worried about. We need to try and put hands together to try and find solutions towards that. The time we saw these stories coming out, our hope of course was that it’s not true, but we have seen that trying to bury our heads in the sand doesn’t help. If these stories are popping up then certainly it shows that there is something wrong that is going on and we might want to try and do something about it. But then the other issue is that if these are a few cases, how much more don’t we know?”

He called for punitive measures against teachers who were found wanting.

“But then if these things are happening in schools, then SAFAIDS also feels that actually the front liner in the battle of fighting this vice actually should be the schools themselves. Schools should put up deliberate measures, deliberate policies to ensure that there are measures to protect a learner from such. [To ensure that] there are measures to protect a learner from being coerced into a sexual relationship by the person who has been entrusted with their welfare and their wellbeing, because no matter how much we work around this, if the institutions themselves do not have measures to curb such then certainly what we are doing is just going to be waste of time and resources. So certainly we would call for close collaboration with institutions of higher learning and the rest of other institutions to try and see how we can work around this,” he said.

“We need sensitization but also the question is what do we have in place for a teacher that is involved in a sexual relationship with a learner, because for as long as they also feel that it’s something they can do and there is no correction measures to try and reshape the whole system, then it’s an issue that we will continue seeing happening time after time. In a case surely it is discovered that a lecturer for example is having a sexual relationship with a student, that behavior should not even be condoned by society. This person should be moved as far away from the students as possible.”

He said the trend was also contributing the high number of unsafe abortions hence leading to untimely loss of lives.

“If one student has come out, this could be one that has courage to report but how many have fallen prey to such behavior. This is contributing actually to the increasing number of unsafe abortions. We have got young people that do not have enough information, so they fall pregnant for example by someone who is married, what do you expect, you know they are not going to get married, you know they won’t have a fruitful relationship in that arrangement so the next thing they will settle is to try and procure an abortion that might not even be safe and we have lost young loves through such,” Zulu said.

And Zulu called for more openness on issues of sexual reproductive health in families to help curb the vice and assist students who might have already fallen victim of several offenses.

“I have always indicated that health is not made at the health facility, health is made back home, it is made back in the community. What values have we imparted in our children is one factor. How open then is the family to discuss with this young person matters to do with their sexual reproductive health, issues of HIV, issues of teenage pregnancies, issues of protection is one other thing. But then we still have a situation where our families have not accepted that these are things that are happening and they are not that open and because of that, because this young person cannot open up, there is so much that is happening in the background and they don’t have the space where they can seek solace, where they can seek help because the family has been closed up,” said Zulu.

“So what role does the family play in this whole thing? Actually, the family must be the basic [element]. What a child notices and observes at home is certainly what they are going to take because they take it as coming from a role model because then, socialization happens at a family level but what kind of socialization we are imparting into these young people is something that matters.”