Home » Literacy » Sex Education Coming Too Little, Too Late for Youths [opinion]

WHEN Natasha (not her real name) started puberty, she was still playing children’s games. By the time she reached form one, she still

had not received any puberty education, at school or at home.

Later, she started hearing about it from the senior girls and from the secondary school guidance and counseling lessons.

She talks of how quickly her body grew — and how her classmates called her names for it.

“They giggle at you and make fun of any changes on your body. It is worse if you mess your clothing. You are even confused and stressed

and you wonder what is happening,” she says.

“I thought no one was noticing until one day my mother brought a pair a bras. She simply told me to try them and never said a word. I had to

see what to do on my own and sometimes would consult older friends.”

Natasha’s testimony, which is fairly shared by many young people in poor countries, is a clear indication that if any, sex education is

failing them. And despite government and civic efforts to teach about safe sex, the information gap seems widening youths seem more confused and are perilously exposed to the deadly HIV plague.

Researches have given away serious deficiencies in the issue of sexual reproductive health among young people with a majority of youths

between the ages of 15-19 indulging in unsafe sex, girls being at higher risk.

A study carried by the Guttmacher Institute in Zimbabwean revealed that two thirds of 15-19-year-olds are sexually active with only half of

them using protection and contraceptives. The Guttmacher Institute works to aance reproductive health through

an interrelated program of social science research, policy analysis, and public education.

In its report, published last November, the institute raised several glaring issues that both policy makers and the civic society need pay

close attention to, if this generation is to be spared the jaws of sexually transmitted diseases and unfulfilled dreams because of poor

decisions on sexual issues.

The study found out that in Zimbabwe, 34 percent of adolescent females have had sex, mostly unprotected, while the figure for their sexually

active males stood at 25 percent in the past decade.

This is a terrifying statistic given that Zimbabwe is a very young nation. According to the Zimbabwe Demographic and Health Survey and the

National Census conducted in 2012, young people contribute a staggering 64 percent of the estimated 13million g Zimbabwean


The Guttmacher report says a significant majority of that mass of kids is wasted in early marriages, drug abuse as a result of a mismanaged

life, unwanted pregnancies for girls and HIV and AIDS. This dovetails with the National AIDS Council reports released late

last year which stated that in 2014 alone, Zimbabwe recorded an astounding 53 000 new cases of HIV infection, again with youths

providing a significant proportion. 13 percent of the 15-19-year-olds were married with only a few of the females able to access contraception while those who are unmarried but sexually active are shunning contraception.

“g taboos against premarital sexual activity, as well as widespread misconceptions regarding legal restrictions on adolescents’

access to contraceptives make it difficult for single, sexually active adolescents to obtain effective methods they need to prevent unwanted

pregnancy. 62% of such 15-19 year olds had an unmet need a level three times higher than that of their unmarried peers,” reads the startling


“Approximately 56 500 Zimbabwean adolescents are not using contraceptives,” it continues. The report says youths at that age are at risk of contracting HIV with the AIDS prevalence rate at such an endangered age group standing at 6, 3percent among females and 3, 9percent among males.

“Just one third of single 15-19-year-old women have used a condom with their most recent partner. Among married women (in the same age

group), condom use is far lower, at 5percent, which leaves them vulnerable to HIV infection,” the report says.

The government of Zimbabwe, in its attempt to combat the catastrophe, adopted the National Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health

Strategy, 2010-2015, in sync with the National Policy on HIV and AIDS, hinged on promoting abstinence among the youths, delaying first

intercourse and condom use.

But as time lapses there is little on the ground to suggest any significant effect. This should send quakes in policy making corridors and the private sector. The high moral debauchery among youths, who are the core of the country, has largely been attributed to lack of enough sex education.

This has reignited the heated debate, which at one point spilled into parliament, on who should assume the responsibility of educating the

youths on sex and sexuality.

At a recent media workshop, there was a general consensus that while puberty is coming earlier in today’s youths, sex education was coming far too late, and when it does, it is insufficient. As a result, the confused adolescents are exposed to experimentation and the consequences that naturally come along with it.

Most sex and HIV education programmes for youths focus on the risks of unsafe sex, leaving them ill-equipped to deal with their sexuality and

unable to lead sexually fulfilling lives, largely because the changes kids grapple with at that stage of life are beginning earlier than

previous generations.

Researchers are debating the possible links to environmental changes, stress in relation to economic and social problems.

But regardless of cause, more kids are already well into puberty by the time sex education begins in school and handling these conversations is not easy for parents or kids.

This brings the controversial question of whether or not schools should be mandated to distribute condoms and other contraceptives to

pupils. Some feel the current curriculum, which is under major review through the Ministry of Education, is insufficient.

“The current curriculum doesn’t delve enough into what constitutes healthy relationships,” says Olga Makoni, Programme Officer for Women’s Action Group (WAG).

“Sex education in schools needs to be revamped considering how at that age developmentally, the kids are very social. They are coming out of

their shells and making friends and starting to engage in those romantic relationships,” she says.

Evince Mugumbate, Information Officer with the Women and AIDS Support Network (WASN), says it is important to start educating children at an early stage. She says it is dangerous to leave the kids to themselves as they are turning to internet to fill the information gape where they are terribly exposed to abuse.

“Social dynamics are changing. Teenagers say they have to turn to the internet for information. The new technologies are outpacing both

parents and school teachers. Over the past decade much has changed because now the new sites have potentially dangerous platforms where

they do a lot of ‘sexting’ and sharing explicit images.

A teacher at a mixed elite private school in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capita city said: “We have had a few instances where we have had to

discipline pupils over sending inappropriate photographs on their hones.” “Sexual images are prolific in our very young pupils,” Mugumbate said.

These concerns are shared by sociologist, Admire Mare, who said new technology and social media brought new dangers, demanding new

responses. “I believe there is need for a more extensive review of sex education to save our youths.”

What is not so funny is the reality that too many children learn about sex from everyone but their parents. playground lingo and obscenity – a distorted description of intercourse from the sturdy kid up the street, or worst of all, a look t some pornographic material on television or internet often provides child’s first glimpse of sex. What should be seen as the most beautiful, meaningful and private communication between married couples becomes a freak-show curiosity.

With more education, teens can make responsible choices about sexual health but only when they have a solid understanding of their bodies

and sexuality. But to show that it is still a long way before society grasps the need, here is what one parent said: “children should not be forced to

study something before they are ready because the after effects can hurt for a lifetime.

That is why I get upset when I hear people want to teach sexual education in school at a young age. There are some children that are not ready to deal with sexual issues when they are ten years old, and exposure to them can cause lasting damage.

Sex education promotes teen sex. Haven’t teen pregnancies skyrocketed after we started this sex education thing?”

While society struggles to find solutions, other agents of socialisation like schools are left to deal with what looks like a new normal. And in the meantime, kids are left wondering if they are normal.

Source : Financial Gazette