By Ashiraf Ssebandeke
The schooling children are in the longest holiday of the year. It is assumed that parents are having discussions with them on almost every topic of their lives. But it is not the case; very few children are receiving attention from their “working” parents and most children, irrespective of their age from a baby class child to a high school graduate watch movies and soaps from sunrise to sunset.
I found two young children watching a Western (Hollywood) movie and a scene about sex was going to happen next, they both covered their faces. These two kids knew that the next action was going to be about sex. When I asked them how they knew they could not give me an answer.
I was so inquisitive to know whether they have received any kind of sex education. Their answer was no, they neither received education from parents nor teachers.
According to a report, “Protecting the next generation in Uganda: New Evidence on Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Needs”, published by Guttmacher Institute in 2008, only 33.8% of girls and 22% of boys aged between 12 and 14 have received sex education in school. At home, 71% of girls and 64% of boys had never talked to parents about sex related matters.
Sex education is a topic many parents would prefer to avoid. And if you have a young child, you might think you are off the hook at least for a while. But that is not necessarily true. Sex education can begin any time.
Few young people receive adequate preparation for their sexual lives. This leaves them potentially vulnerable to coercion, abuse and exploitation, unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases and infection including HIV.
Many young people approach adulthood faced with conflicting and confusing messages about sexuality and gender. This is often exacerbated by embarrassment, silence and disapproval of open discussion of sexual matters by adult including parents and teachers at the very time when it is most needed.
Each year teens in Uganda experience as many pregnancies (25% of the adolescent girls become pregnant before the age of 19) and the youth experiences sexually transmitted infections. By the age of 18 the highest percentage of male and female has at least initiated sex.
Comprehensive sex education is effective at assisting young people to make healthy decisions and to adopt healthy sexual behaviours. No abstinence only until marriage programme has shown to help teens delay sex. Yet the government and religious institutions have spent a lot supporting abstinence only until marriage.
Although the Uganda government ignores that adolescents have a fundamental human right to accurate and comprehensive sexual health information, evidence has shown that comprehensive sex education that is age – appropriate, gender – sensitive and life skills based, can provide young people with the knowledge skills and efficacy to make informed decisions about their sexuality and lifestyle.
When young people are equipped with accurate and relevant information they will have developed skills in decision making, negotiation, communication and critical thinking and have access to counselling.
When your school age child inquires about sex, ask what he or she already knows. Correct any misconceptions and then offer enough details to answer the specific questions.
Do not use nickname for your child’s sexual anatomy which may send the signal that these body parts should not be discussed.
If you do not teach your child about sex they will learn the hard way. Today access to information is easy, children can learn from televisions, movies and internet.
Sex is a staple of news, entertainment and advertising. It is hard to avoid this ever present topic. But when parents and teens need to talk, it is not always so easy. If you wait for perfect moment you might miss the best opportunities. Think of sex education as an ongoing conversation.
The writer is the Country Representative of the African Sickle cell News and World Report Nigeria