* 15,000 copies distributed in over 30 districts
* Ethics minister Nsaba Buturo calls it a disaster
BY SUSAN MUYIYI
The United Nations childrenâ€™s agency, UNICEF has come under sharp criticism for distributing in Uganda a teenagersâ€™ guide book that says homosexuality is normal.
Parents complain that the book misguides the youth; ethics minister Nsaba Buturo calls it a disaster, and education ministry officials say they know nothing about it.
Fifteen thousand copies of The Teenagers Toolkit, were printed in 2002 and distributed in over 30 districts, according to UNICEF. The book, produced in collaboration with the UK-based Health Link World wide, aims at educating 15-19 year olds about their sexual and reproductive health.
Whereas the book generally talks about adolescent sexual health and gives useful life skills, the section on same sex relationships on page 86 has drawn outrage from a section of parents.
It reads: â€œMany people are sexually attracted to people of the same sex or attracted to both males and females. We are born with these feelings about who we like sexually, and who we do not like sexually â€“ it is natural.â€
The section adds, â€œIt is quite normal when you are growing up to fall in love with someone of your own sex. This can happen even though you may grow up to have sexual feelings for the opposite sex, marry, and have children.â€
It goes ahead to say, a peer educator can support someone who is not sure about their sexual feelings. The peer educators, says the book, can also support gay or lesbian teenagers who fear to tell others about their status. â€œThe important thing is to be open minded and to show love and respect to all your friends.â€
It is also mentioned that the only way anal sex is safe is for stopping pregnancy.
Michel Sidibe, the UNICEF representative in Uganda at the time, in the foreword, noted that the book would assist adolescent peer educators in their work of educating and influencing other young people on matters related to their health and development.
The book is also aimed at developing their skills and building their self-confidence in facilitating sensitive topics on sex and sexuality.
Alarmed by the contents of page 86, the Executive Director of the family life network (FLN), Steven Langa, is mobilising parents to petition the President against the book and homosexuality in general. He says the book is not only against Ugandan cultural norms, but also offends family values.
â€œWe parents are disgusted by these events. We feel terrible. How can our children be exposed to the gruesome mechanics of sex as expressed in this book?â€ asks Langa.
Langa said as a parentsâ€™ network they want to have a say in the sex education curriculum for children. â€œThey are teaching sex education without morals. What messages are being passed on to our children? It is poison and for poison to kill, it doesnâ€™t have to be given in large amounts.â€
Likewise Buturo expressed shock on being shown page 86. â€œThis is disturbing and disastrous. I am going to investigate. Who are the authors of the book?â€ he asked.
Aggrey Kibenge, the education ministryâ€™s publicist, says he has not seen the book. He, however, said the ministry does not approve of homosexuality. â€œAs a ministry, we wouldnâ€™t promote such material. It is not something that we would associate with. I have not seen the book.â€
Kibenge says whereas UNICEF has often partnered with the ministry to develop life skills education for young people, they are very careful about the messages passed on to the children.
â€œWe donâ€™t encourage masturbation, drug use and homosexuality.â€
Yusuf Nsubuga, the acting director of basic secondary education (HIV/AIDS) programme under the ministry, says he hasnâ€™t heard about the book.
Araali Kusemererwa, the in charge of the school health education programme, also said he had never seen or even heard of the book.
Education Minister Namirembe Bitamazire says she only learnt about the book this week and she has not yet read it. She promises to take up the matter with relevant authorities. â€œI canâ€™t comment about the contents because I havenâ€™t yet read it,â€ says Bitamazire.
While acknowledging the right of adolescents without discrimination, UNICEF says they do not advocate for any sexual orientation. Rather, UNICEF says the book is intended to help adolescents make decisions. The agency adds that International Covenants on Human Rights prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
â€œThe information the book contains is based on international best practice on adolescent development issues (including adolescent sexuality), and aims at helping young persons to make informed decisions about their lives as responsible members of their community,â€ says Chulho Hyun, the Chief Communication Officer, UNICEF Uganda.
According to Hyun, the book is not given to adolescents directly neither did it target schools. â€œThe publication was designed as one of a range of tools to assist peer educators and other professionals, trained in age and culturally-sensitive delivery of information, to address issues that adolescents confront -- not for adolescents themselves.â€
Hyun says they distributed the book through district local governments. It was part of the Adolescent Rights to Self-Protection and Friendly Services sub-programme of the HIV/AIDS and Rights to Self-Protection Programme. Under the programme, the book was to be given to selected teenagers who were carefully trained to educate their peers.
â€œIt would also be important to note that peer education is not limited only to HIV-prevention efforts, as has been shown as a best practice internationally, but is one strategy in a community-wide effort,â€ Hyun explains.
Kibaale, Adjumani and Mbarara are some of the districts where the books were distributed.
â€œI cannot confirm the number of districts in which the books were distributed because I was not working in the country at the time. However, UNICEF strictly distributed the books through the local governments and not to schools.â€
Whatever the method of distribution, the teenagersâ€™ toolkit has offered a battle ground for a clash between local cultural norms and Western values promoted by an international agency.