When is the right time to talk to your child about sex? Should school-going children be taught sex education?At what age is a child mentally ready to be subjected to sex education? And how far should it go?
These are the mind-boggling questions that parents find themselves in.
Yet in Uganda, the past one year has offered lifetime lessons and points of shock among parents.
When this newspaper in June broke a story that sex was being taught to children in schools, President Museveni and Church of Uganda Archbishop Stanley Ntagali sternly responded.
Speaking at the national celebrations to mark the International Women’s Day in Nebbi, West Nile in June, the President warned that while the motive of “foreign NGO messages on sex education” may be good, they must not encourage promiscuity and turn classrooms into bedrooms.
“Be careful with some of these messages from foreign NGOs. For them they are saying a child can become a wife as long as she uses a condom. This is not the way to counsel our children,” Mr Museveni said.
“Our message is put padlocks on your private parts until the time comes to open them when you have a husband. You are not there just to taste and taste (jaribu, jaribu). I can’t tell my daughter or granddaughter to do that. If you start with the right message from the beginning, they will take it,” he added.
The Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, the Rt Rev Stanley Ntagali, on his part condemned comprehensive sexual education in schools, saying the system specifically wants children to have the freedom to have sex at will.
According to Ntagali, comprehensive sexual education (CSE) is one of the evils that are cropping up in the country.
A few weeks later, Parliament struggled to find explanations after literature that was considered gross was found on the library shelves of the Buwaate campus of Greenhill Academy, an upscale private school.
Displeased by the literature, MPs on the Education Committee made an unannounced visit to the campus and confiscated some of the literature.
Some of the titles the MPs found on the shelves would make for intriguing reading; A Kiss Like This For Primarily One, Girl Power, In The Night Garden, Now You Are One, The King Of Thieves and Juliet The Valentine Fairy.
Amuru Woman MP Lucy Akello moved a motion to ask government to withdraw the policy on sex education. The motion largely sailed through with little resistance, putting the ball in government’s court to act on sex education on the primary school curriculum.
“The children in our schools are very young and active. I can’t imagine my child in Primary Two being taught sex education. What does she know?” Mr Kibenge asked in an earlier interview with Daily Monitor.
But is it okay for parents to teach sexual education? And how can children be inducted into the dreaded area?
To begin with, what is sex education?
Sex education is instruction on issues relating to human sexuality, including emotional relations and responsibilities, human sexualanatomy, sexual activity, sexual reproduction, age of consent, reproductivehealth, reproductive rights, safe sex, birth control and sexual abstinence.
In a bid to address the above concerns, Sonke Gender Justice, an organisation operating in African countries, has already developed a CSE and Information Toolkit with a special focus on children as parents across the continent face the dilemma of teaching sex.
The tool kit, for example, indicates that reaching children early with sex information equips them to cope with the mixed messages they see around them. For example, to a three-year-old, using the right words for their body parts helps to demystify their own body parts and makes complex conversations easier later in life.
During a three-day training of journalists in Johannesburg, South Africa in August on how to use the tool kit, Sonke Gender Justice’s Zithulele Dlakavu emphasized that parents should not bury their heads in the sand on matters sexual education as the consequences of lack of it will haunt.
Mr Wessel van den Berg, a Child Rights and Positive Parenting portfolio manager at Sonke Gender Justice, says issues pertaining to sex education ought to be handled carefully by parents and guardians.
“…It is important that children have comprehensive sexuality education. Together with our partners, we have developed this tool kit with a special focus on children, and with it we hope to address many of the issues concerning sex education,” Mr Wessel van den Berg said.
Moruti Pitso and Tapiwa Manyati from Sonke Gender Justice’s partners Save the Children during their submissions to journalists said in the face of technology boom, equipping children with sex information would go a long way in averting crises that social media, videos and television would cause when they display sexual information.
Yet back in Uganda, Pastor Wilson Bugembe of Light the World Church, Nansana, Kampala, has this to say.
“The world today is a global village. Many children are learning about sex from different social media platforms. If parents want to limit their kid’s interaction with these sites, they should make an effort to educate their children on sexual issues. If they don’t, trust me, these children will get to find out one way or another and some of the information they are exposed to is beyond their tender ages.”
He adds: “The level of your child’s intelligence quotient (I.Q) should also determine how much information you share with this child. If the child is young, try and sugarcoat the material you share willthem. On the other hand, if the child is older, be direct and leave room for them to ask as many questions as they wish.”
Bishop George Bagamuhunda of Kigezi Diocese throws a thumbs-up for sex education, but says we should tread more carefully.
“Sex education should be taught to children above the age of 14 years old. By then, they should be able to understand and easily process information on sexual matters. The responsibility falls on the parents and teachers. I am not comfortable with children as young as 12 years beingexposed to sex education. It is a recipe for disaster.”
And the Rev. Fr. Dr. Silvester Arinaitwe, the executive secretary of Uganda Joint Christian Council strikes a similar tone.
“When we learnt that sex education was being taught in different Ugandan schools, we approached the Ministry of education demanding an explanation of why children were being exposed to such information at anearly age... Personally, I was disappointed that such information was beingemitted to children in schools. Imagine teaching a child of four years about arousal and body touching... I recommend sex education is taught to youngsters above the age of 12 years, at least when they have started experiencing puberty. The responsibility should be both on parents and teachers.”
Mary Asiimwe Butamanya, a counselor at Daughters of Mary Training and Counseling Services, says:
“It is very important to teach children sex education. It is vital especially at the stage where they are undergoing adolescence. They would need to know information regarding sexual organs, body changes, feelings, among other aspects. If children are not taught these things, people will easily take advantage of them. There are youngsters who are engaging in sex too early because no one is telling them anything about sex. But also, the individuals including parents and teachers who are laboring to conduct this sex education are doing it the wrong way. They either give the children too much or less information.”
So, it comes back to the parent and teacher. Doomed if you do not teach and doomed if you teach badly; the experts have given their advice.
Parents and teachers first need to get training from different counselling associations on how to effectively conduct communication on sexual matters to their children.
The other way of doing it is by taking these children to professional counsellors who will know the right way of channeling this kind of information to the child. They will base on aspects of age, gender and intelligence quotient of the child, something parents rarely look at whenever they are talking to the child.
The other advantage of taking a child to a counselor is that children easily open to them than their parents. There are things a child will tell a psychotherapist and not their caretakers becausethey know they are speaking to someone who is offering their time, a listening ear and who will not be judge them for their actions.
Mary Asiimwe Butamanya, counsellor at Daughters of Mary Training and Counseling Services
What kids can understand age by age (Sonke’s tool kit breakdown)
Age 2 to 3: The right words for body parts such as penis and vagina. Here cute but funny names can be used.
Age 3 to 4: Where do babies come from? A simple explanation; Mom has a uterus 9womb) inside her tummy where you lived until you were big enough to be born. No details of reproduction.
Ages 4 to 5: How is a baby born? A simple explanation; “When you were ready to be born, the uterus (womb) pushed you out (through mummy’s vagina).
Ages 5 to 6: How are babies made? Provide a general idea like dad and mom made you. ‘ if your child demands more details you can say a tiny cell inside dad called a sperm joined together with a tiny cell inside mum called an egg”.
Ages 6 to 7:What is sex? A basic understanding of sexual intercourse. You can say, “Mom’s and dad’s bodies fit together like puzzle pieces. When the penis and the vagina fit together, sperm like todpoles swim through the penis up to the egg”. Talk about your ideas on sex and love. For example, say sex is one of the ways show love for each other.
Ages 7 to 8: That sex is important, which your child has probably picked up from the media and her peers. Most children of this age can handle a basic explanation on just about any topic, including rape. You can say: “Remember when we talked about sex being part of a loving relationship? Rape is when someone forces another person to have sex, and that is wrong”. You can encourage your child to ask you questions about things she has heard from her peers.
Ages 9 to 11: What is happening to my body? The changes that happen during puberty. Be ready to discuss sex-related topics your child sees in interviews.
Age 12: At this age most kids are formulating their own values. Keep communicating and check with them every so often to provide a better context for the information your child is getting. Avoid overkill or you will be tuned out. Acknowledge that sexual feelings are normal but reinforce message that while their bodies might be ready for sex, their hearts, minds and emotions are not.