Isn’t it ironic? The same junta that shimmies to the tunes of Sheila ki jawaani, roll their eyes when asked about one of the biggest fruits of said jawaani, sexuality?
Indians, sometimes even the well-read urban kind, often tend to attach a whole lot of sensitivity to the topic of sex, regarding it with the most vicious taboo. It is thus a natural consequence that education that teaches their children about sexual well-being is met with the highest resistance possible – from parents, teachers, lawmakers and nosy neighbors, especially nosy neighbors.
Let’s talk about sex? No thanks. Not until a magical switch is flipped on the day you say I do.
Thereafter, sex suddenly features a lead role, albeit heavily masked under innuendoes, among otherwise conservative aunties who gently egg you for good news.
And unless you have managed to get your gyaan from some helpful forward-thinking cousin, you may find yourself scouring the net (quite futile now with the network ban on that thing that rhymes with corn) or skipping right ahead to the meatier pages of Mills & Boons for some self-taught shiksha.
But jokes apart, this is serious business. Sexual Education, or as we like to address it with its PG euphemism, Family Life Education, is far from being accepted as a necessary component of education.
Despite propaganda, and repeated favorable policies, it has been constantly rejected in various states in India.
A deep-rooted sense of morality binds the sentiment of a large population from seeing the benefits and necessities of launching such an education program throughout the country.
It is largely believed that talking about sexuality and its awareness may instead corrupt young adolescents.
Au contraire, they are the perfect target of corruption if left untaught about their bodies, leaving them highly vulnerable in the midst of their own physiological changes.
A study was conducted in collaboration with UNICEF and the Population Council India about adolescents (the pimply teenagers between 10 and 19 years of age comprising nearly 250 million of India’s population) based on research conducted and published between 2002-2013.
They went to incredible details, but to summarize, adolescents face challenges in various aspects. Lack of education, child labor, lack of nutrition, substance abuse, child sexual abuse and a lack of understanding of their sexual and reproductive health are only some of the glaring shortcomings in their well-being.
The lack of comprehensive data on all adolescents makes it difficult to exactify the impact these problems have on them. However, here are some of the direct consequences of these issues, among the Indian youth.
The following article dwells into the shortcomings that come with lack of proper education, and resources, and the improper implementation of policies that could save the future health of our nation.
This article is based on studies done mentioned above (UNICEF and PCI), this publication in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, and other related journals from the references within.
Why is Sex Education, for adolescents, essential in India?
HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Diseases/Infections
There are over 2.3 million people over 15 years with HIV infection. This is about 31% of the total population infected with AIDS/HIV, in India.
There is very little awareness about safe sexual encounters and the consequence of having unprotected relations with multiple partners.
Only 45% young men and 28% young women seem to have a comprehensive knowledge about HIV/AIDS and its prevention. This is more in cities than in rural areas. Same is the knowledge about HIV/AIDS testing facilities with only 42% young men and 30% young women, among the 15-19 year olds, ever having heard of resources to get such a health check-up.
Even worse is the state of prevention of other sexually transmitted infections with numbers falling well below 20% for both genders (studies by IIPS and Population Council 2010). 8% of all surveyed unmarried young women are not even aware of a single means of contraception and protection.
Such high-risk sexual vulnerability can be attempted to be avoided if schools adhere to the National AIDS Prevention and Control Policy 2002 which begs the need for AIDS prevention and protection of the rights of infected individuals through awareness and education.
Female reproductive health and hygiene
The sad reality of rural and a bit of urban India are underage marriages, with young girls even below 15 years of age being married off to older men. This brings about a disproportionate amount of high-risk pregnancies among adolescents with 62% of rural women mothering at least one kid when they have barely turned the corner from childhood themselves.
This is also the time when they undergo multiple births exposing themselves to a whole lot of adverse health issues. Maternal mortality is highest among 15-24 year olds in the face of immature reproductive bodies and poor antenatal care.
Even worse is the knowledge of reproductive cycles leading to poor menstrual hygiene and reproductive tract infections.
Unwanted pregnancies are also dealt with by unsafe means just because many are unaware of the risks of back-alley abortions or the fact that there are perfectly legal means to seek abortions before 20 weeks, for special circumstances.
A dearth of knowledge of menstrual well-being is also perpetuated by a reluctance of talking about menstrual periods openly. It is usually shrouded in secrecy, as if it is a crime to bleed and show signs of being perfectly healthy.
At least the media is catching on and not shying away behind phrases like “those days every month”! And more young men are beginning to understand the science of the female body, removing unhealthy intrigue about something which is simply natural.
Children and women are vulnerable to being violated against, especially if they are kept in the dark about sexuality and its abuse at the hands of perpetrators that are often among friends and families.
Nearly 50% of boys and girls, each, face sexual abuse in their young lives, in India, according to a survey by the Ministry of Women and Child Development. It is the responsibility of adults to empower these young people with the knowledge to protect themselves against such abuse.
It is also argued that such an education depletes the need to act out sexual urges in a disrespectful manner, thus reducing the instances of adolescents violating others and growing further criminal behavioral traits.
Hence, such programs need intervention of psychological experts who can address the behavioral delinquencies and help find an effective way to translate the need for sexual responsibilities.
The list of benefits of sex education can go on, but rather it is succinctly described best as a basic right to live a healthy life, as nature intended.
While there are many policies in place to address exactly all these concerns for the better, the barriers often outweigh the need and in the end, no one really wins – neither the young who are left in the dark nor the safeguarded Indian morality which is bruised each time a violation of women and children occurs.
So, let’s ensure that if there is a provision for enlightenment, it is utilized to its fullest resource.
Let’s understand the might of the Adolescence Education Program (AEP) – a policy already in place in India – and ensure it gets fully implemented and not brushed aside, for the safety of our children.
So, next time your kid asks where do babies come from, resort to facts and not storks. ‘Coz without proper sex education we’d be letting our young out into a world very different from our wishful moral utopia. Thoughts?
More articles on education here.