The director of a Nairobi-based AIDS hospice fears promiscuous “Hollywood” values are effecting African young people to the detriment of family life.
Dr. Margaret Ogola is medical director of the Cottolengo Hospice, a facility providing care and support to orphans born of HIV- positive mothers. Ogola was in Toronto in May to attend the Second Pan-American Conference on Family and Education, where she led a workshop on adolescent sexuality in Africa.
“More than ever, our Kenyan youth are emulating the kinds of values coming out of Hollywood,” Ogola told The Interim. “It’s proving to be disruptive of our society’s traditional view of adolescence.”
Ogola and Kenyan youth are showing a declining respect for sexuality and self-control after exposure to secular Western values.
She said African society’s traditional attitude toward adolescent sexuality has been disrupted as young people no longer look to the family for support and guidance.
Previously, Kenyan adolescents went through rites of passages around age 17 or 18. The rites were of short duration and marked the transition to adult sexuality. In community, the rites taught young people to view sex in the context of marriage.
“There used to be more barriers against sexual activity,” Ogola said, “even within a marriage.”
Today however, adolescence has become a period of confusion for many African young people. Self-control is no longer fashionable and immediate gratification is encouraged, especially in light of the contraceptive practices promoted by some international development agencies.
“The African mentality believes that children and families are a blessing,” Ogola said. “But economic conditions are forcing people to have smaller families. In the Third World the family is the only real form of social security. Anything destabilizing the family structure will have a negative impact for future generations.”
Ogola said birth control measures, coupled with the AIDS epidemic have been especially devastating in Kenya. She said the high incidence of HIV-positive mothers has led to an increase in the abortion rate in the country. This occurs despite research showing up to 60 per cent babies born to HIV-positive mothers show no trace of the virus by the age of 10 months.
“With proper care, many of these babies born to HIV-positive mothers can be restored to full health,” Ogola said. Her Cottolengo Hospice in Nairobi cares for up to 50 GIV-positive infants. These children are put up for adoption once they receive a clean bill of health. Ogola and her husband have themselves adopted a child from the hospice.
She said the AIDS epidemic, coupled with the impact of population control programs, have been especially harmful in Kenya. “Many of our most talented young people have been lost to the AIDS epidemic,” Ogola said. “On top of that, we’ve been aggressively hit by the family planning advocates.”
Ogola, who also serves as executive director of the Family Life Counseling Association of Kenya, was drawn to pro-family work after her experience with sex education programs in Kenya. She said development abstinence as a central component of sexual education.
She cited the case of one international development agency offering $67 million in grants to Kenya only if the government agreed to promote birth control education in schools. Only in church-run schools, she said, are Kenyan youth taught the values of chastity and abstinence.
In addition to the adolescent sexuality workshop, Ogola took part in the concluding panel at the Pan American conference.