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‘It’s the Rajya Sabha committee that needs sex education’

I have gone through the committee’s recommendations and I find them very strange,especially statements like “basic human instincts like food,fear,greed,coitus etc ....


April 30, 2009 12:18:56 am

•What is your view on the Rajya Sabha committee which has said that there should be no sex education in schools as it leads to promiscuity?

I have gone through the committee’s recommendations and I find them very strange,especially statements like “basic human instincts like food,fear,greed,coitus etc need not be taught — rather control of these instincts should be the subject of education and Indian education on instinct control should be the important objective.” Would you rather have ‘instinct control’,or a situation where adolescents are equipped with all the information to understand their own lives and make choices? Those who reduce it to matter of penetrative sex are,in my opinion,the ones who need sexuality education in the true sense.

•Is there any evidence suggesting that it is important to disseminate sex education to adolescents? What about the charge that sex education results in promiscuity?

There is a strong body of evidence to back up my assertion. Young people are not vulnerable because there is HIV. Young people are vulnerable,and that’s why there is HIV. This says it all. In the US,Dr. Douglas Kirby,who has evaluated 83 sex education programmes has categorically shown that such programmes do not increase sexual activity — rather,they delay initiation of sexual activity,increase contraceptive use and reduce the number and frequency of sexual partners. Our own study done in Haryana,where the curriculum was developed in partnership with teachers,parents and educational authorities show that adolescents need these studies and after three years of intervention,the common myths and misconceptions about their bodies,HIV transmission and dealing with sexual abuse and violence had a statistically significant impact. There is no international or national evidence that shows that this results in promiscuity. This is absolutely incorrect.

  

•Why is sex education such a vital issue for adolescents?  

Adolescents are a heterogeneous group,including married ,unmarried,and those in highly vulnerable situations like those working on the streets,those engaged in sex work and those who use drugs. Their needs depend on their unique settings,on livelihoods,access to information and healthcare. National data shows that half of the adolescent girls get married below the age of 18,and become virtually powerless. In my view sex education is critical for adolescents in all these categories — they must understand sexuality,the human body,human relations and safe sexual practices.

•What,in your opinion,should follow the parliamentary committee recommendations?

 I agree that the national policy which takes a robust body of evidence into account is necessary. The committee rightly states that education is part of the concurrent list hence states must view the NACO material,and mould it to their own needs. It is important not to wait for the national policy because unwanted pregnancies,HIV infections,sexual abuse,rapes are not going to wait for a national policy. We owe it to adolescents; it is their fundamental right. 

•How have countries around the world dealt with sex education?

Sexuality education is not a new phenomenon. Countries like Sweden has been carrying on such programmes for the last 70 years — grandparents,parents and children,all three generations have gone through this. Today the debate is not about having sex education,the debate is on the content and quality of delivery of sex education. Inmost developed countries,it is a rule rather than an exception. In developing countries like Africa,sex education has been seen as a prevention tool for HIV transmission. The challenge for our country is to develop a mix of developed and African models appropriate to our demographic needs.

 

•How do you view the backlash among the states to the last adolescent education programme by the Department of AIDS control?

 We will always have to consider the sensitivity of all stakeholders. But we cannot start challenging the premise of sex education and link it to promiscuity. It is a fundamental need for a country with over two hundred and twenty million adolescents,an age group with a high rate of unwanted pregnancies and new HIV infections,where early marriage is almost a rule in many rural areas and in urban areas,there is an information invasion into households — all this makes mandatory that a systematic approach is followed to provide quality information through appropriate channels. I had a parent who came and told me of her experience describing the menstrual cycle to her daughter,who knew more about it (with lots of incorrect information) than she imagined.

 

•Now that the manual has been considerably mellowed,do you expect it to be better received?

I’ve been involved with the manual prepared by the department of AIDS control. I don’t think ‘mellowed’ is the right word,I would say it has gone through a cultural audit. The technical content has not been compromised. This curriculum has primarily been developed by schoolteachers in active partnership with technical experts including mental health experts.

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