We’ve written about it extensively, so you can imagine our excitement when we heard that the Chairman of the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA), Dr. Natasha Balendra, was actively trying to introduce age appropriate reproductive health education into the school curriculum.
Balendra has had a discussion with the Ministry of Education to talk about the ‘possibilities of introducing sex and relationship education into school curriculum from Grade One’, according to The Island.
Hopefully these discussions will turn out to be fruitful! We keep our fingers crossed as sometimes good initiatives and ideas are met with resistance and they never take off.
Age appropriate lessons and trained teachers
It doesn’t stop there though. Balendra says teaches will receive training on how to teach reproductive health education to students of different ages, as mentioned in a Sunday Observer report.
We know that comprehensive reproductive education is already taught as part of the physical and health education lessons in schools. The lessons that start from grade seven cover several aspects from physical changes during puberty to understanding reproductive organs.
The problem, however, stems from the fact that some teachers feel uncomfortable teaching these lessons. Some skip the lessons entirely, while others skim over it trying not to get caught in the details.
Details matter. Ultimately, this means that most our Sri Lankan youth aren’t properly aware of their reproductive health and reproductive rights. This can and does lead to rape, molestation, adolescent pregnancies, and sexually transmitted infections, and of course the accompanying mental scarring.
Present youth uninformed
A recent survey carried out by the Ministry of Health and UNFPA discovered that a majority of university students aged 25 years and under learnt how to use a condom from their friends. While it’s great that they do know how to use a condom, learning from peers might not be ideal in case the instructions they receive are not correct.
It was worse for the youth in the Estate regions (where 5% of Sri Lanka’s population lives). Majority of these youth surveyed had not even heard of condoms.
Most of the youth surveyed, both university students and estate youth, believed that information about condoms should be available in the school curriculum. This need might just be answered by the NCPA.
Alarming numbers of child molestation
NCPA’s focus is more on children. After all, according to this UNICEF fact sheet, there were 1,750 cases of child rape, 5,475 cases of child molestation and 1,194 cases of child abuse reported in 2012.
But reproductive health and rights education goes beyond keeping children safe. As we’ve written here and here, even those with disabilities need reproductive health education. That is both to protect them from sexual abuse (they are one of the more vulnerable groups) and also to counter misconception in society that they should not marry and/or are incapable of having a healthy sex life.
Comprehensive reproductive health and rights education is undoubtedly a burning need. With trained teachers and age appropriate lessons, Sri Lanka can head towards a more informed and healthier future.