The first fear by religious leaders is that sexuality education should not be taught to children of the age category 3- 9 years
By Humphrey Nabimanya
The Ministry of Education and Sports' Permanent Secretary's decision to halt the teaching of sexuality education in schools as quoted in Sunday Vision on July 1st, 2018 a few days back might be the most problematic trend on the topic at hand.
In fact, this symbolizes the reluctance of Ugandan decision makers to create timely frameworks and policies that reflect the needs of the target audience(s). This is yet another example marking the start of the never-ending back and forth "we were never consulted" conflicts.
This came after another local daily also reporting on June 25, that the Catholic church leadership had slammed the new framework, vowing that they will not allow it to be introduced nor taught in their church-founded schools. This resolution was made during the Uganda Episcopal Conference.
If you have been following the sexuality education conversation(s) in Uganda for the last two years, you will be shocked at the turn up of events. In 2016, the Ministry of Gender Labour and Social Development issued a press release on the resolution passed by Parliament on the 17th of August 2016, urging the government to ban comprehensive sexuality education in Uganda (this was eventually banned). It cited the lack of policy or guidelines and framework on the same, and the likely dangers of having the training infiltrated with the dangerous vices that are inconsistent with the national values, norms and morality.
From then until early this year, the Ministry of Education had been engaged in a wide range of consultations with key stakeholders in this space including but not limited to teachers, religious leaders and civil society organizations. This gesture made it possible to have a framework that tries to have a middle ground for all stakeholders.
I have had the benefit of reading through the launched framework and, though not completely perfect, I appreciated that learners are grouped into five categories. These are; Early Childhood (3-5 years); Lower Primary (6-9 years); Upper Primary (10-12 years); Lower Secondary (13 -16 years); and, A-Level/Tertiary Institutions (17+). This means that the curriculum is to be tailored to the learners age and developmental needs at each level.
The first fear by religious leaders is that sexuality education should not be taught to children of the age category 3- 9 years. This fear seems to stem from lack of understanding of the content of the message for this particular age category. At this age as already the framework mentions, the children are taught to resist un desirable body touches, or avoiding receiving gifts and favors from strangers. It is not teaching them about sex!
Secondly, that the family and teachers should be prepared to handle Sexuality Education. This will already be addressed in the implementation plan which is being developed and many stakeholders, including religious leaders shall be consulted. The framework provides the scope and the content shall be covered in the implementation plan. It should be noted that parents are struggling to provide life skills sexuality education as they are not knowledgeable about the subject. Besides children spent a lot more time in schools, including young children as early as 3 years being taken to boarding school facilities. This is a serious concern the church leaders should deal with. Parenting is a big challenge to families today!
Sexuality education supports young people's empowerment by improving their analytical, communication and other life skills for health and well-being in relation to sexuality, human rights, values, healthy and respectful relationships, cultural and social norms, gender equality, non-discrimination, sexual behaviour, violence and gender-based violence, consent, sexual abuse and harmful practices.
This is very important because with changing times, it is necessary that we impart sexuality education to our teenagers. The physical and hormonal changes taking place in the body make them curious to explore these changes. Added to this, the increased amount of exposure through television, books and internet makes them impulsive to try what is forbidden, as the age of modernisation has virtually opened a Pandora's Box of opportunities and choices for the youth of today. The halting of the framework, which provides supervision, can result in more harm than good.
We therefore need to expedite the teaching of sexuality education because we are past that stage of quoting statistics about the rates teenage pregnancy and child marriages, HIV/AIDS prevalence amongst young people and all other sexual reproductive health challenges affecting young people. We need to act because it is young people being affected the more!
Writer is the founder and team leader Reach A Hand, Uganda