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India: Womens Groups and Health Activists Appeal Against the Parliamentary Committee Report on Sex Education

9 May 2009

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We, the youth groups, women’s groups, groups working on sexuality as well as disability rights and educationists wish to register our strong protest against the stand taken by the Parliamentary Committee led by Venkaiah Naidu vis a vis sex education [1]. We genuinely believe that education is a process that enables learners to access information, analyze their life experiences and understand principles of equality, equity, non-discrimination and justice. Since sexuality is an important dimension of the lives and experiences of individuals, a dimension that starts manifesting itself in ways that are positive and negative during childhood and is a significant aspect of adolescence, we firmly believe that sexuality education needs to be included in the school curriculum so as to inform and empower young people.

There are several myths and irrational notions about sexuality education in minds of many. It is appalling to see the learned committee of Parliamentarians (who people have empowered to take decisions on their behalf) also subscribing to them.

The need for Sexuality Education and NOT Sex-Education:

First and foremost, we wish to underline the importance of Sexuality education and not ‘sex’ education as understood by many.

Sexuality education is a process of acquiring information, building a critical understanding and forming attitudes about the self, relationships, sexual behaviour and diversity, reproductive health and gender roles. It is also about developing young people’s skills so that they make informed choices about their behaviour, and feel confident and competent about acting on these choices. Sexuality education addresses the biological, socio-cultural, psychological, and spiritual dimensions of sexuality from the cognitive, affective and behavioral domain.

Thus the concept of Sexuality Education is very different from the term “Sex Education” (as understood by the Committee) which is often conceptually understood to mean education about human sexual anatomy, sexual reproduction, sexual intercourse, and other aspects of human sexual behaviour. In sex education, the emphasis is on biological, rather than social aspects.

We think Sexuality Education is important at school level as it enables adolescents to understand the changes that they are undergoing. Also programmes have to be designed for out-of school youth and youth in vulnerable circumstances. It addresses their fears and anxieties and makes them aware of their rights and how these can be protected and promoted. This helps them to take decisions and negotiate with others, based on both recognition of their own interests and the rights of others.

It helps them recognize sexual abuse, violence and discrimination and break the silence related to these violations and seek appropriate support from families and schools.

Fears & Myths about sex education

One of the fears is that young people are being provided with information that is “too explicit at too young an age”.

As pointed out earlier, the scope of sexuality education is much wider than information about sexual activities. More specifically, this fear can be easily addressed by an educational system that ensures that the sexuality education curricula are age appropriate. The content, style and images used would be informed by the specific needs and contexts of different age groups. Adequate training and skill building of teachers would be crucial to satisfactory implementation.

There is a myth that the introduction of sex education will lead to young people becoming sexually active.

There is no evidence to demonstrate that the introduction of sex education leads to increased sexual activity among young people. Studies conducted in other countries, including developing countries, in fact show that as a result of the introduction of sexuality education, there is an increase in the age at which sexual activity among adolescents begins.

Secondly, there is overwhelming evidence which demonstrates that young people are already sexually active in India. The National Family Health Survey III reveals that among young people, who form 30% of the population, 51% women and 27% men in the age of 15-24 have ever had sex. In the age group 15-24, 10% women and 2% men had first sexual intercourse by the age of 15. In the age group 18-24, 40% women and 12% men had sex for the first time before reaching 18. Also one in six women age 15-19 has begun childbearing. Significantly, 35 per cent of all reported HIV infections are among those in the 15 to 24 age group.

Other data also indicates that more than 53% children in India are subjected to sexual abuse and over a third of all rape victims are below 16 years.

In contexts where young people are not just sexually active, but face sexual abuse, contract HIV and become mothers during their teens, how can we withhold information about sexuality from them? Let us also understand that young people are already seeking and gaining information from a variety of sources - from each other, popular material such as magazines, pulp novels, pornography etc. However, there are no sources available to them at the moment that gives them accurate, relevant and meaningful information.

Given the aforementioned arguments, we as a group feel that the Government must re-look at the need of the hour and address the problems of growing incidence of sexual assaults and subjugation of young girls and women. These problems can only be addressed through SENSITIZED YOUTH and thus the need for age appropriate, non moralistic and fact based Sexuality Education of adolescents and youth at the school level. As a signatory to PoA that emerged at the International Conference on Population & Development in Cairo in 1994, the government is committed to encourage reproductive health education amongst adolescents. We appeal to the government to take the appropriate action that will befit the 15th anniversary of ICPD.

In Solidarity,

Gains & gaps- ICPD+15: a Civil Society Review in India

Aneka, Centre for Health and Social Justice (CHSJ), Centre for Health, Education, Training and Nutrition Awareness (CHETNA), Jagori, Jan Swasthya Abhiyaan (JSA), National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR), Naz Foundation (India) Trust, Nirantar, North - East Network, Partners for Law in Development, Population Foundation of India (PFI), Positive Women’s Network, Rural Women Social Education Centre (RUWSEC), SAHAYOG, Sampada Grameen Mahila Sanstha (SANGRAM), Social Upliftment through Rural Action (SUTRA), Society for Health Alternatives (SAHAJ), CommonHealth, Swayam, Youth Coalition for Sexual & Reproductive Rights

Footnotes

[1] Rajya Sabha Committee on Petitions, Hundred and Thirty Fifth Report on Petition praying for national debate and evolving consensus on the implementation of policy for introduction of sex education in the Schools and holding back its introduction until then, presented to Hon’ble Chairman, Rajya Sabha, on 2nd April, 2009.

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