THE GAMES YOUR CHILD IS PLAYING MAY NOT BE SO INNOCENT
While on a family outing recently, nine-year-old Jane Tugume ran to her mum shouting: â€œI donâ€™t want to play with that girl! She has bad manners!
By Mathias Safari
While on a family outing recently, nine-year-old Jane Tugume ran to her mum shouting: â€œI donâ€™t want to play with that girl! She has bad manners!â€
â€œWhat bad manners?â€ her mother asked inattentively.
â€œAt school, she plays sex in class!â€ the little girl blurted, adding: â€œSometimes in the school bus, she kisses her boyfriend!â€
Tugumeâ€™s mother was shocked. Her daughter, at nine, knew about sex and boyfriends! Not wanting to reveal her shock, she replied: â€œOkay, go and play with other children!â€
Times have changed and more primary school children are having sex than most teachers are willing to admit. In the past, you had to be well into your teens to know about sex and romance, but todayâ€™s child seems to know more, much more.
Some children who have just joined high school say it is not something new. According to them, sex in primary school is more frequent, because then, â€œteachers are not as strict about sexuality as they are in secondary school.â€
Perhaps the most shocking thing about children having sex with their peers is when some children do not find it shocking at all. â€œYou glance over and just let them continue with their business,â€ says a 12-year-old boy who once stumbled upon a Primary Six â€œcoupleâ€ having sex during games-time, behind the school latrines. â€œIf the teacher is approaching, you run away. If they are caught, that is their business.â€
Claire, who completed primary school four years ago, admits that sex is a fantasy. â€œThere are lots of places to find privacy: Under the desk or in the play ground.â€
But what is the appeal? â€œJust,â€ she says.
Winifred Kibirige, a counsellor with Kyambogo Youth and Studentsâ€™ Association, says she has been hearing more about similar occurrences lately. â€œA teacher called me two weeks ago and said: â€˜What do you do with children you find cuddling and kissing?â€™
So who is to blame for this situation? Walter Okecho, a lecturer of early childhood development at Kyambogo University, attributes it to exposure to information on the media. â€œThey think that if they see pornography on TV or the internet, they can get away with it in real life,â€ he observes. Besides, in the past, there was no TV in most African homes and sex was an intimate topic between parents.
Okecho points at romantic soap operas such as Generations, Second Chance and Woman of my life, which are part of the changed environment, as the media seems to highlight more entertainment.
These dramas, which are shown in some schools as part of the extra curricular programmes, hold subtle erotic messages and sustained exposure is more harmful than imagined, Okecho says. Sometimes, pupils copy the behaviour they see from footballers and celebrities on TV.
Callistus Tumwebaze, a Makerere University-based educational psychologist concurs and explains that such images have a lot of bearing on children. He says the initial sexual feelings are supposed to develop at the beginning of the adolescent phase â€” around 12 -14 years of age and not earlier.
â€œEarlier manifestations of sexual feelings are a dangerous psychological imbalance. The child has no emotional resources to cope with the feelings, because they have been stirred to appear before their normal time,â€ he warns.
Some parents blame teachers for this situation. â€œWhat do you expect a child to do if we have teachers defiling girls in school? What example are they showing?â€ asks Paul Egesa, a businessman.
Teachers, however, deny that sexual intercourse takes place in schools. â€œIn all the years that I have been a teacher, I have never come across anything like that,â€ says Ibrahim Haswa, the deputy headteacher of Banda Primary School in Kireka.
â€œThat is a new one,â€ remarks Arnold Ntungwa, the deputy headteacher of Buganda Road Primary School.
Perhaps the problem can be blamed on the fact that it can be hard to police everything that goes on at school, especially while teachers and pupils are busy with co-curricular activities such as sports or drama rehearsals.
In many schools, prefects stay late to make sure pupils stay behind for legitimate reasons, but they do not actually check if some could have gone back into the school.
But even adults do not always know how to handle the sex issue. One matron says one night she found two students having sex in the school dining room but she did not report the â€œcoupleâ€ because she was worried about the repercussions for them â€” and herself.
â€œThese stories kick you in the face,â€ she says. â€œBut what do you tell their fellow children, if they see them being punished?â€ She also worries that an adultâ€™s word does not mean much. â€œSometimes you say something and the kids could smash you. Besides, sometimes parents will defend them.â€
What can be done?
Goddie Twesigye, a teacher at Boma Primary School in Mbarara says schools should be strict on discipline. Many schools do not have rules specifically banning sex but only clauses prohibiting â€œimmoral conductâ€.
Kihembe Muhiiga, a retired educationist, calls for guidance and counselling in schools to shape young learners.
Punishments may not work, he observes and this is when the parents should be ready to offer the right sex education.
How to tell children about sex
Jane Kakama, an official at the counselling unit in the education ministry, gives the following tips:
â€¢Do not be afraid. Most children who stray have been fed on wrong information, after their parents refuse to give them the right information.
â€¢Do not wait until your children are at puberty. Start by the age of eight or nine. Tell your child what is expected of him or her and keep the lines of communication open. Be a good listener and he or she should provide truthful answers. In most cases, yelling or punishing a child for his or her sexual behaviour only worsens the problem.
â€¢See a guidance and counselling specialist if you are afraid or too embarrassed to talk to your child directly.
â€¢Point out the dangers of early sex like sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancy.
â€¢Have some age-appropriate information in form of books, articles and videos to help you when you talk about sex.
â€¢Using your own experience can be really helpful to the child, because he or she gets a feeling that you also went through the same challenges.
â€¢Make sure you are free and approachable â€” avoid being stern. Statements like: â€œI will kill you if you impregnate a girlâ€ will scare the child into cowering from letting you into his or her circle.
â€¢At times the child might ask a question whose answer you do not know. The best way forward is to research or read through books together and the child will enjoy the process of discovering the truth.
SEX IN SCHOOL