Carlito, just nine years old, is sitting at the edge of a sandy field in Chimoio, in the central province of Manica, Mozambique, where he and his friends play soccer, putting the finishing touches to an unusual ball to play the beautiful game.
The children bunch together several condoms and put them over each other, then fill them with air, tie them up with raffia and cover them with rags sewn together to make a soft, light, sturdy ball. "We use condom balls because they're easy to make and don't cost a lot of money," said Carlito, surrounded by his team.
The condoms are sometimes those their mothers get from health facilities when they go to family planning meetings; afraid that their husbands might find the condoms in their purses, they often give them to their children to make toys.
More often the children get the free condoms from health facilities and places where the prophylactics displayed at the entrance and there is no one controlling who actually takes them.
"On several occasions we saw our basket of condoms empty out in half a day. At first we were very happy, but when we found out that children were taking them to make balloons and soccer balls, we put them out of their reach," said Eugénio Fumane, who coordinates the mobile studio of the Manica Social Education Group, with the Portuguese acronym, GESOM.
|The results of distribution efforts can be reduced to zero when they're used to make toys instead|
The group works with Mozambican and foreign partners to promote HIV/AIDS and reproductive health education campaigns in various high-risk areas, encourages people to be tested for HIV, and distributes condoms.
Health experts have warned that in a country where 16 percent of the population is HIV positive, condoms should be on penises and not used as toys.
"At the moment, one of the biggest problems has to do with educating and raising the population's awareness regarding the use of contraceptives, especially condoms," said Arão Uaquiço, coordinator of the Provincial Nucleus for the Fight Against AIDS (NPCS) in Manica.
Mozambique's new national strategic plan advocates condom use as the main means of curbing HIV infections. "When used consistently and correctly, condoms are an effective means of preventing HIV, gonorrhoea and unwanted pregnancies, but the results of distribution efforts can be reduced to zero when they're used to make toys instead."
Uaquiço said there was also the danger of children playing with used condoms. "When they can't get access to free condoms in institutions, children, especially street children, resort to garbage cans, where they sometimes take used condoms to make their soccer balls."
Photo: André Catueira/PLusNews
|Making a condom ball|
Sale prohibited to minors
Population Services International (PSI), a leading US-based social marketing organization, is developing a campaign in cooperation with its vendors to prohibit sales to minors. "We never make condoms available to children," said Tomas Reis Madeira, PSI's provincial representative in Manica.
GESOM has been discouraging the use of condoms by children in its campaigns, and now distributes condoms to teenagers, young people and adults. "We have new brands of condoms with a more limited distribution. These condoms are made for specific groups," said Madeira.
In 2008, PSI sold more than two million condoms in Manica Province, and sold or distributed free of charge more than 55 million condoms throughout the country – about three condoms for each Mozambican.