Thursday March 30 2017

We are betraying young people by not talking about sexuality

Many parents are reluctant to engage children

Many parents are reluctant to engage children into sex education, which puts them at risk 

By Humphrey Nabimanya

Sex education remains one of the most controversial topics in Uganda today. Most opponents have accused it’s proponents of advocating for teaching children how to have sex, that they are undermining the institution of marriage, we are insensitive to local cultures and traditions and not to mention that we are usurping or replacing the role of parents.

On the surface, these arguments look to be somewhat right. But on critically analysing them, revelations of how ignorance has overshadowed contextual reasoning on the topic reaffirm the need to be very careful.

We should all agree. There is no right thinking human being who doesn’t wish the best for their children. Regardless of if you are a pastor, politician, peasant, name it, waking up to the fact that your child has contracted HIV or another sexually transmitted disease, can be very frustrating. And few, if any, want to see their daughters become mothers while they are still underage.

For the record, all these cases are happening. Teenage pregnancy rates have increased from 24 per cent to 25 per cent according to the new Uganda Demographic Health Survey 2016, HIV prevalence among young people aged 15-24 in Uganda is estimated at 3.72 per cent for female and 2.32 per cent for male according to the 2014 HIV/Aids Uganda Country Progress Report by UNaids and the list goes on.

Young girls are getting pregnant not because we are promoting immorality but because we are betraying them. If parents and all factors surrounding the marriage institution are doing a great job, then why are innocent children still getting pregnant and contracting HIV? We have failed to instill the good morals to enable them abstain.

This is where sex education comes in. For starters, when I talk about sex education, I mean an age-appropriate, culturally relevant approach to teaching about sex and relationships by providing scientifically accurate, realistic, non-judgemental information as the International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education by Unesco rightly states.

It covers issues such as relationships, body changes, puberty, life skills development, self esteem, drug and substance abuse. It include opportunities for young people to explore their attitudes and values contrary to what opponents think. And it gives them (young people) a chance to practice key skills such as negotiation and decision-making.

Young people in Uganda today form the largest part of the population. They are growing up in circumstances quite different from those of their parents. Traditional systems that used to handle adolescent sexual reproductive health issues are becoming less and less effective due to changing nature of our society where children spend long hours in schools or in front of television, internet or their smart phones.

That uncensored information that finds its way to these children may be dangerous and sometimes too much for them to handle.

Therefore, by denying young people this education, we are increasingly ignoring the importance of equipping them with knowledge and skills to make responsible choices in their lives.

I am happy that the Ministry of Education and Sports is already conducting consultative meetings to come up with age appropriate sexuality education for young people in schools to be incorporated under the National Framework on Sexuality Education. This is a plus but we need to see this process expedited to ensure that we can’t get more cases of sexual reproductive health consequences.

It is, therefore, important that this is included in the formal curriculum in schools, and that teachers are trained to deliver this. Schools offer the best way to reach large numbers of young people with meaningful, two-way communication. We also need activities to reach children who are not in school, as these are often the most vulnerable and marginalised.

We have a responsibility to protect children. We know that they are entering puberty and adolescence earlier than before. And that the transition from childhood to adulthood is getting longer. During this transition, girls and boys cannot be left alone to fend for themselves without the tools to make informed and safe choices.

Mr Nabimanya is the founder and team leader, Reach A Hand, Uganda. humphrey@reachahand.org

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