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Thursday, 18 July, 2002, 11:07 GMT 12:07 UK
Should children's programmes tackle HIV?
Plans to introduce the first HIV-positive muppet into the children's programme Sesame Street have been heavily criticised by Republican party politicians in the United States.

The cheerful female character, who as yet has no name or form is scheduled to receive its debut on the South African version of the popular children's TV series on 30 September.

The makers of the programme have said the character could be exported to the eight other countries that air the programme, including the US, as a "good role model" for pre-school children.

However five congressmen have written to the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), which broadcasts the series in the US, to say they do not believe the character would be appropriate given the average age of its viewers.

What do you think? Should issues such as HIV be addressed on children's television? Or is the subject matter too explicit for children?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.


Your reaction


The producers will do what they have always done, which is to teach children to be kind and respect each other

Emma, USA
Good heavens, this is Sesame Street! They're not going to be teaching safe Muppet sex, the producers will do what they have always done, which is to teach children to be kind and respect each other. Clearly some of the people passing comment here need to sit down and watch the show, as clearly they have not got the message.
Emma, USA

Clearly Sesame Street's makers are setting a better example to children than certain Republican politicians. No surprise there then.
Stephen Wey, UK

If nine percent of South Africans had cancer, no one would hesitate about introducing a cancer Muppet. That there has been such a public outcry about a Muppet with HIV is the clearest indication of exactly why children, and perhaps some politicians, need help avoiding painful stereotypes. PBS, and Sesame Street in particular, have a decades long history of combating just this kind of bigotry with the sensitivity children understand. Let's trust them to continue that important tradition.
Hilary, NY, USA


Many children and even adults are not aware of the facts about HIV and Aids

Candy, UK
Having lived in South Africa and now in the UK, I can assure readers that many children and even adults are not aware of the facts about HIV and Aids - no matter where in the world they live. People all over the world are affected by AIDS, not just those living in Africa. I think it is a wonderful idea to use Sesame Street to teach children not to discriminate against anybody because they are infected. Isn't it strange that a country like South Africa (previously renowned for it's discrimination) can embrace this idea while other politically correct countries are still trying to bury their heads in the sand?
Candy, UK(Formerly South Africa)

HIV/AIDS are a fact of life. To assume that children are unaware of this disease is outrageous. The sooner children learn about the disease the more tolerant they will be and there is a better chance that they will understand and avoid the risks of acquiring HIV. Children need to be respected as people - intelligent, thinking people, not as little robots that adults just push around.
Dean, USA

Sesame Street's strength has been to show children that the kid sitting next to them in class is just like them but of a different colour or religion. An HIV positive character in S. Africa is the same approach, but tailored to the needs of the country. I doubt the programme will go much beyond asking children to treat an HIV positive classmate with respect and not to shun them at playtime. If your child was at a school where one in nine of the pupils were HIV positive would you really chose to avoid talking to them about the subject? And if you did talk to them what would you say?
David, UK


I work with young people aged 5 years and up, and I get asked loads of questions about HIV.

Ann, London
I think this is a good idea. I work with young people aged 5 years and up, and I get asked loads of questions about HIV. Normally they are based on assumptions or comments they have heard from other children. They need to be introduced to it at an early age so that it does not become a taboo subject.
Ann, London

At this age they don't need to know about each disease in detail, although admittedly they should be warned about touching any needles they may find when playing in the park. What they do need to know is about refusing sweets/rides from strangers, being careful near roads, water and in the kitchen.
Caron, England

If the producers of Sesame Street are trying to reflect the real world they'll also need to create a terrorist muppet, a dim-witted president muppet, and a hopelessly misguided TV series producer muppet. On the other hand, if Sesame Street is supposed to be a children's entertainment programme, then its content should stick to the remit and avoid blundering around in a cauldron of altruistic eccentricity and adult concerns.
Chris B, England

I think using a muppet to talk about important global issues is a great idea, but it's not a new one. We've been listening to muppets for years in the UK, collectively known as 'the government'.
Rich, UK


A far more effective exercise would be to try and educate the parents

Rob, UK
I personally don't see a problem with it, but I think a far more effective exercise would be to try and educate the parents. After all, if the parents are prejudiced, misinformed bigots, then they are likely to bring their children up the same way, and I feel that countering this would be more profitable.
Rob, UK

I've been watching the Muppets since I was baby, and the values they teach kids are important. Such as sharing, being open to other cultures [and monsters]... Now with the HIV muppet, if I ever become millionaire I will leave my money to such great show.
Leonardo Calcagno, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Childrens shows have already looked at diseases like Cancer - why should HIV be any different? People should credit children with a little more intelligence.
Cath


If some of the myths and taboos surrounding the disease can be dispelled, I consider that a good thing.

Stephanie, USA
I don't see any problem with having an HIV-positive character on Sesame Street, considering the number of children who are either HIV-positive themselves or who've been orphaned by the disease. If some of the myths and taboos surrounding the disease can be dispelled, I consider that a good thing. I can also see how the more conservative elements in my country would have a problem with it. HIV is still mistakenly considered by many people to be something that mostly affects homosexual men even though just about sexually active person is potentially at risk.
Stephanie, USA

As 10% of the population in the community where this character is debuting is infected with HIV, I really wonder how so many can believe that these children are presently shielded from knowledge of the disease. Surely they can see its effects so why not help them to deal with the questions they must undoubtedly have?
Deb, USA

Children know that HIV exists. Just ask them, they know. I think the producers of Sesame Street realize this and are helping these children deal with the information that they cannot avoid knowing about.
Skru, US

When I was a young child, I was taught valuable information in school: about not smoking, and "saying no to strangers" etc. Messages like these get across to children and help to prepare them early for when they encounter those things. Patronising our children in the name of "protecting their childhood innocence" isn't going to help anyone. We shouldn't confuse "ignorance" with "innocence".
Ryan Gallagher, England

What the hell are we doing to our children's heads. For the last 20 years the so called enlightened adults of this world and dare I say interest groups have continually pushed adult thoughts and their adult remedies upon children. Is it not true to say, that humour tends to lighten the load of adults after a tragedy. Why then must we burden the young with problems - however widespread or real they may be. The young need to enjoy the fantasy, pretending to be what you are not and all the other wonderful gifts that young children grace the adults of this world with every day. Were Noddy and Big Ears homosexual because they slept in the same bed as some small minded academic once claimed? When I was a young child I had no such thought except, for how wonderful Noddy's world was and nothing more.
Matthew Hayden, Australia


I would also like to see the character on the show be introduced in America.

Michelle, USA
I think that it is a wonderful tool to use. I would also like to see the character on the show be introduced in America. This is a problem and a situation that will not go away if we try to pretend that it doesn't exist. I'm sure that the congressmen would feel a lot different if the situation was the same here in the US. I applaud Sesame Street for tackling the subject and I'm sure that they will do so in a tactful manner.
Michelle, USA

I wouldn't have a problem if it were done honestly. If the character wasted away to nothing and died a horrible death and they portrayed all the psychological hardships of living with Aids both for the character and their family. But they won't do that. It'll be all sunshine and roses to combat the "stereotype" that Aids is a bad thing.
Chad, USA

I see no problem in educating children about HIV in a country where one in nine people have the illness. We're not talking about leafy, suburban Surrey here...
Matt Sears, UK

Children in Africa are already forced to endure, suffer and live with horrific phenomena such as landmine injuries, ten-year-old soldiers, death of both parents, and the refusal of rich Americans to spend the paltry pennies per child that would suffice to relieve Africa's children of so many undeserved forms of suffering. African children who walk through minefields daily don't exactly have an innocent, carefree childhood, do they?

When attempting to "shield" or "protect" children from harsh and unpleasant truths about the cruelty and apathy that exist in today's world, too often adults cross the line into telling lies. If we lie to children, how can we then tell them not to lie? We are hypocrites when we demand that children be open with us, yet we are not open with them. Children learn by example.
Robert Singleton, United States


This is a necessary step in addressing the realities that Aids has thrust upon the world

Brahm, Thailand
Here in Thailand (as I am sure is a scene now common around the world) there are regular reports of children who have HIV, or whose parents have HIV, being shunned at school. In effect, these children are suffering the compounded hurt of being ostracized as punishment for something they are wholly not responsible for and can in no way control. Are we to leave it to their prejudiced, albeit uninformed, parents to perpetuate this injustice, or is it reasonable to think that addressing the children directly may provide a more positive result in diminishing this injustice? I think this is a necessary step in addressing the realities that Aids has thrust upon the world. After all, I grew up with Sesame Street teaching me that people are people, no matter what colour their skin is.
Brahm, Thailand

Whilst quick to foam at the mouth, most people seem to be missing the point. This isn't about sex - it is about the fact that many thousands of South African pre-school-age children have contracted HIV through no fault of their own, and that they deserve to be treated exactly the same as any other child that age. These children have to grow up to face the fact that they are HIV-positive, and this is a positive step to ensuring that on the playground - a notoriously harsh place for anyone "different" - these children are allowed to make friends and be treated with respect just like anyone else.
Iain, UK

Sure guys, let's have an HIV positive character in Sesame street to educate our kids. Let's also have an unapologetic cigarette smoker coughing blood into his handkerchief as he dies from his lung cancer and a drink crazed psychopath who beats his wife after having a skin full each night. Believe it or not, these are more intractable problems worldwide than Aids. What makes me think that we won't see these folks in Sesame Street?
Dilip Kapur, Australia

It is ridiculous to see the opposition to this idea. It is important for young people to be educated. Our current older generations wish to be ignorant of the truth in regards to STDs. It is imperative that my generation is not, as well as our children. We cannot afford to cultivate the ignorance and bigotry embodied in older generations. Bring on the muppet!
Sam, United States

For heaven's sake, this character is going to be on South African children's television. As David Meyer and David from Ireland pointed out so well, too many children there already deal with this issue at such a young age! Meanwhile, Lee and Peter J Hunt might want to remember that "unprotected sex" and drug use aren't always responsible for the overwhelming majority of HIV infections. A lot of children got it at birth or from infected breast milk, and a lot of women and girls (including many mothers of HIV-infected children) got it from being virgins before marriage and faithful wives to their less-chaste husbands afterwards (sadly, they thought that traditional feminine modesty was "protection" enough).
Suzie, USA

Being a South African I am horrified at some of the comments on this page. It's about seeing the bigger picture - 300,000 people in my country will die of HIV/Aids this year alone. We need to protect the thousands of children who have been infected since birth. Takalani Sesame is the correct forum to remove the stigma attached to children who are positive
Mel, South Africa

What a strange idea! I'm sorry but it's not lack of knowledge of HIV that causes its spread - it's sexual behaviours - now are they really going to teach them that in Sesame Street? I can't wait!
Mark, UK

A four-year-old will see a colourful character who is sick, which will be related to each child's experience of illness. Where children have experience of someone dying, they will find their favourite television programme suddenly very sad and no longer the escapist fantasy that it was.
Kathy, UK


I can see today's bigotry carrying on into the future

Debbie, UK
If we leave it to parents to ensure that their children grow up to be tolerant and supportive of people with HIV, then I can see today's bigotry carrying on into the future. There are parents who are getting the message across but many, many more are waiting for 'someone else' to do the job for them. If we show children that HIV+ people are exactly the same as everyone else, except they have an illness that means they have to be extra careful about blood and other body fluids, then I applaud Sesame Street.
Debbie, UK

I am totally disgusted that my children may be open to such an issue on a children's programme. It is stealing a child's innocence. Why not include child pornography and a paedophile vicar? Surely these issues affect children just as much. These stupid PC decisions come from middle class morons that are totally removed from society. I want to save my little girl from the horrors of the streets; I don't expect to sit her down in front of the real world, not just yet!
Simon Doderer, England

One in nine means in a class of 30 you can expect three children to be HIV positive. Given that if your child was "HIV free" would you hold off telling them about Aids when they are likely to have a classmate with the disease? Given these children's daily exposure to the virus how long would you wait to tell them? The makers of Sesame Street should be applauded; parents now have a way to discuss with their young child the serious issues involved in a way they can relate to.
Andy Pellew, UK, Cambridge

No, no, no! Whilst it's a very important subject it should not be presented to that age of child. An awareness of Aids does not sit alongside developing a knowledge of the alphabet and basic numeracy.
Phillip Holley, UK


Sexually transmitted diseases are best left to adolescent education

Peter J Hunt, England
Hilarious, yet, quite ridiculous! For once in my life, I feel myself siding against excessive political correctness. (My heavens, it hurt me to say that!) Issues like sexually transmitted diseases are best left to adolescent education rather than the sphere of life that belongs to childhood innocence.
Peter J Hunt, England

Carefree childhood? Wake up. Childhood has never been carefree and children are neither helped nor protected by deliberately blinding them to reality. It is the duty of adults to prepare children for life, not to pretend the real world isn't out there. Sesame Street is to be applauded.
James Munro, Scotland

Considering most cases are unprotected-sex/drug-abuse related, wouldn't a better role model be someone who has NOT got HIV? Transfusions and contamination by straying partners/infected mothers are not the majority, yet. One wonders what they actually hope to achieve by integrating HIV characters into everyday life.
Lee, Winchester, England


Tell the kids how it really is, because kids aren't stupid

Jamie Trinca,
United Kingdom
I'd rather have my child learn the dangers of HIV and Aids by watching Sesame Street instead of falling victim to it. Never mind the Republicans and their right wing censorship, tell the kids how it really is, because kids aren't stupid. Then maybe the next generation of Africans will be a bit better off than the current one.
Jamie Trinca, United Kingdom

How do you reconcile the issue of a serious ailment with the likes of Count Von Count and Elmo?
AW, UK

When I was growing up there was a massive campaign against drinking and driving and none of my contemporaries will drink and drive, whereas my parents' generation still tend to after one or two. The younger you are taught tolerance, respect and understanding the better chance we have for the future. Children are taught from a very young age to brush their teeth and wash their hands - this is another warning they must learn and I support it wholeheartedly.
Anon, UK


Perhaps such an open approach would have prevented the spread of this virus and I myself might not be infected

John, UK
We cannot afford to be politically correct when it comes to HIV infection. When one in nine people in Africa is HIV positive we need to spread tolerance and education to bring this epidemic under control. Even in the UK and the US, work needs to be done to combat the taboo nature of this issue. As long as the subject is shied away from, the public at large will not discuss and educate one another - perhaps such an open approach would have prevented the spread of this virus and I myself might not be infected.
John, UK

Re: John, UK. How you infected yourself is your business but I bet it didn't happen when you were five! Very young children simply do not need to know about sexually transmitted diseases or IV drug abuse. Tell children in secondary school (11-16) but not in Sesame Street. They will encounter the cruelty of the world soon enough so please let them grow up with a little innocence, at least for a few more years.
Frank, England

Children relate more to what they can see rather than what someone suffers from. They're more likely to misunderstand someone wearing glasses, someone who's overweight or someone of a different race than a person who is HIV positive. Drawing attention to unseen deficiencies may prove more damaging in the long term. One of the luckiest things about being a child is perceiving the world from your point of view - from child-like innocence. People shouldn't be allowed to undermine this and take it away.
Ed Vista, UK

I think it is a great idea to have such a character on the show, particularly in the context of the South African situation with HIV. Children can deal with a lot more than we give them credit for and total ignorance of an issue will never be good for them. I think we can trust that Sesame Street producers will ensure that the message is very much age-appropriate.
Aine, Ireland


There's probably more responsible ways of addressing the issue

Jay Raspin, UK
What is really sad is that Aids is an issue that is so big that we are forced to recognise its potency. I don't like the idea, but that's because I don't want to have to deal with the issue, not because the producers are necessarily wrong. However, I can't help feeling that Sesame Street bigwigs are simply using their young viewers as a platform to get their point across. There's probably more responsible ways of addressing the issue.
Jay Raspin, UK

At the moment, HIV and Aids seems to have moved out of the limelight, and anything that again raises public awareness about this serious issue has to be good. In addition, putting it on children's TV brings home the message at a young age, introducing children to STDs before they get to secondary school. I remember having such a laugh watching my biology teacher's red face as he described the "ins and outs of sex". We never listened to what he said about 'boring' things like STDs. TV programmes like Sesame Street can help to address this.
Ian Jones, Wales


Most South African children don't have the privilege of being shielded from the reality of HIV and Aids

David, Ireland
Well done to the CTW for having the courage to introduce such a character. I expect many people in this part of the world will be bemused and disgusted by such a character on a pre-school show. Unfortunately, most South African children don't have the privilege of being shielded from the reality of the HIV and Aids problem in Africa and have to learn to live alongside it everyday. Instead of criticising Sesame Street for the character, perhaps we should be instead examining the circumstances that led to such a state of affairs in the first place.
David, Ireland

Children are able to deal with a wide range of issues. We must remember here that sick children have been on Sesame Street before. The danger for the producers of course is that it may lead to stereotyping.
Nikolai, Edinburgh, Scotland

Oh dear. Yes, HIV is an important subject, but should we really be ramming it down our children's throats? What happened to carefree childhood? Can't we let our kids spend their first years in blissful ignorance of the nastiness of life?
Andrew Howlett, England


Children do not need to deal with these issues at such a young age

Samantha, England
I don't think it is appropriate to have such a character on any children's programme aimed at that age. Children do not need to deal with these issues at such a young age. They should be allowed to remain children for as long as possible. There are not puppets with TB or cancer so why should there be puppets with HIV? Children know when someone is sick but they do not need to know exactly why and it should stay this way until they are old enough to learn how it is caught.
Samantha, England

What exactly is overly explicit about discussing with South African children the disease that has left so many thousands of them orphaned? These congressman should be proud that such a recognisable American brand could be used to educate and protect children on the other side of the world. If they don't want to send money to tackle the problem, the least they could do is try and help in some other way.
David Meyer, EU


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