Mercy Mashaba, 20, a mother of one, once lived a hopeless life from the time she fell pregnant at the age of 16.
She had no knowledge about safe sex, including condoms, abstinence and partner reduction.
For her, she thought, it was normal because in Noordhoek, South Africa, it was not strange for a girl to be impregnated and be deserted by the man responsible.
“Until this day, I have no idea about the whereabouts of the man who made me pregnant. He was a foreigner,” she says.
Worse still, Mashaba had nowhere to go to seek legal redress because of lack of knowledge.
To rub salt in the wound, her desire to attain higher education hit a snag.
“I was the laughing stock of the area. Some people insulted me for being impregnated and deserted. I blamed myself for ignoring advice from my elders,” she narrates her story with passion.
Mashaba is not alone. During the 2019 delayed World Aids Day commemoration at Noordhoek, it was proved that more individuals aged between 10 and 19, have had their rights abused due to lack of information.
But today, the story is different for Mashaba, adolescents and young people due to introduction of Comprehensive Sexuality Education, a programme run by South African-based Partners in Health and the South African government through the ministries of Education and Health.
Visits to Noordhoek during the delayed World Aids Day proved that Partners in Health established youth cafes and clinics from where adolescents learn about their sexual rights, HIV prevention programmes, balanced information about relationships, among others.
The programme is in response to joint efforts by South Africa, Malawi and other countries in 2013 to advocate for comprehensive sex education both in and out of school youths. The model is a rights-based and gender-focused approach to sexuality education.
It was endorsed by 20 ministers of health and education from the Eastern and Southern Africa region in 2013 to scale up access to, not only, quality comprehensive sex education, but sexual reproductive health rights (SRHR) and HIV prevention for adolescents and young people.
Initially, comprehensive sex education has been part of the South African Education Curriculum for almost 20 years now in the provision of scientifically accurate information, building positive values and attitudes which enable young people to safely navigate the transition to adulthood.
Mashaba like many other girls, in an interview said had they known their sexual rights five years ago, they could not have faced the situation.
The likes of Mashaba are now instrumental in public awareness so as to ensure that youth patronise youth cafes and clinics to get first-hand information on sexuality education.
“I encourage my colleagues to attend awareness meetings about CSEs in youth cafes so they have a clear understanding of their sexual reproductive, educational and health rights,” Mashaba says.
According to, Noordhoek Partners in Health centre manager Violynn Sauls, 29, more youth patronise library and youth cafe services where they do not get misleading information about sex, sexuality, gender and relationships.
Sauls—a role model trained by Partners in Health in sexual health issues before taking up the role as centre manager in the area—is a darling of Noordhoek because of her eloquence in public awareness.
She was first stationed at Veldrift and got promoted to work at Noordhoek from where she is behind the success of youth cafes.
Sauls says: “The core aim of comprehensive sex education and the new structured lesson plans is to help learners understand concepts, content, values and attitudes around sexuality, sexual behaviour and lead safe and healthy lives.”
She believes that more adolescents are now aware of their rights through their vigorous campaigns about comprehensive sex education in the area and Cape Town as a whole.
“Stigma has lowered also towards the LGBTQ [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer] community because we tell them that such people have their rights,” she said.
Lerato Morulane, an advocate in Noordhoek concurs: “We work with United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and other policy making organisations in the Sadc for more adolescents to know their sexuality rights.
We also cover topics such as maternal health, abortion, gender and anything that we feel could be a challenge to their life during youth meetings in youth cafes.”
Partners in Health executive director Patricia De Lora says her organisation is addressing such topics with donors, government, communities and religious groups.
“We also provide advocacy and leadership training particularly aimed at young women; truckers wellness programme; teenage pregnancy prevention; teen parenting support and education to parents of teen parents,” De Lora says.
Partners in Health is championing the programmes through the Because We Can campaign. The campaign seeks to contribute to positive changes in SRHR and comprehensive sex education policies and laws and defending progressive policies and laws from attacks at African Union (AU), Sadc and national levels in 8 southern African countries.
“We have roped in journalists and communication officers from Malawi and other countries to provide checks and balances through news articles with regards to what governments do on comprehensive sex education,” De Lora said.
Recently, UNFPA proposed a set of nine components of comprehensive sex education which are being implemented through global, regional and national programmes.