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Discourses of childhood innocence in primary school HIV/AIDS education in South Africa

Deevia Bhana


This article draws from interview data to examine the meanings that teachers in two race and class-specific contexts in greater Durban, South Africa, may give to children\'s right to sexual health information as a part of HIV/AIDS education. The article focuses on the regulation and production of childhood innocence by means of the ways the primary school teachers talked about sex in their HIV/AIDS education lessons to grade-four students. I
argue that discourses of childhood innocence regulate and limit the possibilities of conversing about sex in such a context. The dominant discourses construct children as ‘too young to know\' and displace children\'s right to sexual health information to older children, while stressing anxieties about parent hostility to sex education, which precludes effective coverage of sexual topics in HIV/AIDS education. Showing how race, class and culture are deployed in upholding innocence, I contend that the notion of childhood innocence is embedded within the varying social contexts that make up the South African landscape. But, I suggest that an assumption that primary school teachers will engage with HIV/AIDS education while mediating information about sex in health promotion is simplistic. In conclusion, I propose a need for ongoing theoretical and practical work with teachers and the need to build alliances with parents.

Keywords: childhood sexuality, health information, parents, primary education, school children, sex education

African Journal of AIDS Research 2008, 7(1): 149–158

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eISSN: 1608-5906
print ISSN: 1727-9445