Parenting: Why sex education is your responsibility
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Jovia Uwamahoro, 18, dropped out of school after she got pregnant. Her naivety in regards to sex education changed her whole life.
“I got pregnant when I was 15??? and I had to drop out of school. Life was never the same as all I was left with was regret, wishing I had done things differently,” Uwamahoro sadly recollects.
According to Uwamahoro, teenage pregnancy and how to avoid it was something no one had cared to bring to her attention.
“I easily fell into temptation because I only followed what my body told me to do. I didn’t, for a second, think of the repercussions or that there was even a chance I could get pregnant at such an early age,” she says.
Uwamahoro’s gullibility didn’t halt fate, and she found herself in a very dismal situation.
Unfortunately, she is just one of the many young girls who have fallen prey to the hands of devious men and sometimes, equally naïve boys.
When it comes to matters regarding sex, some parents shy away, hoping that whatever needs to be learned will be done at school. With this, they don’t make time to sit down with their children and properly discuss the gravity of this subject.
Most teens really have no one to confide in about matters related to sexual relations, save for friends who are more or less in the same boat.
Some parents focus on painting a scary picture, with lines like, if you have sex, you will die.’ But is that enough to curb their curiosity?
Last week, Health Development Initiative (HDI), a non-government organisation which works towards a society in which everyone has the opportunity to enjoy the highest standards of health and wellbeing, organised a meeting for various partners to discuss the state of sex education with the youth.
Aflodis Kagaba, the coordinator of Health Development Initiative, says that in Rwanda, most parents are usually uncomfortable when it comes to talking to their children about sex due to the fear of exposing them to early sexual activities.
“Many adolescents in Rwanda are often forced to seek knowledge about sex and sexual reproductive health from unconventional sources. I believe this reality is a major contributing factor to the low level of sexual education and awareness among the majority of Rwandan youth,” Kagaba says.
Realising this situation, the government has instituted several measures to mitigate the lack of sexual education among the youth in schools. Some of these government initiatives include the Comprehensive Sexuality Education in schools, the National School Health Policy and the policies on Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (ASRHR).
Kagaba says that although the information given in schools provides the students with some basic sex education knowledge, the information they often receive doesn’t emphasise behaviour change. This is because the sex education lessons in schools often focus on the biological components.
However, the level of sex education in Rwanda would increase if students were taught how to make informed decisions regarding sex, relationships and general sexual health.
Kagaba points out that when the youth don’t attain sex education, they are faced with many challenges that often result into bigger societal problems.
When adolescents aren’t given ample information that encompasses all aspects of sexual reproductive health, they often end up engaging in early sexual activities that might have many repercussions. Young persons who aren’t equipped with the information and decision making skills regarding their sexual health risk acquiring either sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or unwanted pregnancies.
These outcomes can in turn contribute to larger societal problems such as the rate of school dropouts or the increase in the HIV/AIDS infections. This goes to show that proper sex education is not just about sexual matters but also, general behavioral changes that a young adult needs.
“HDI as an organization provides access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health information and services, under its Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) Programme.
“As part of the programme, HDI works with secondary school health clubs and uses them as channels to enhance the capacity of Rwandan youth to ultimately contribute to safer sexual behaviours, and prevention of HIV and unwanted pregnancies,” Kagaba adds.
The organization engages different stakeholders including parents, teachers, local authorities, health care providers and other organisations that work with young people so that they all understand their role in improving the knowledge of young people about sexual reproductive health.
Parents are encouraged to comfortably talk to their children at an early stage bearing in mind that sex education is one of the basics that children need so that they are able to make informed decisions regarding their sexuality.
“Talking about sex is not being immoral; instead, it’s of great importance in the influence of children’s behaviour until they are old enough to make their own decisions.”
Lydia Mitali, the in charge of girls’ education at the Ministry of Education, says that the issue of sexual education will be handled with the new curriculum as it is being combined with sexual reproductive health.
“Enlightening young girls on sex education encourages them to develop a clear set of values built upon respect.
They get to develop meaningful and respectful relationships with their counterparts,” Mitali says.
She says that sex education can undeniably be of great help because girls become more aware of their bodies and the changes they ought to go through.
Cases of unwanted pregnancies arise partly because of the absence of emphasis on sex education but with it on the curriculum, it is bound to be handled including cases of sexually transmitted diseases.
A lot of progress is yet to be achieved because these teenagers will be equipped with enough knowledge, such that even if they decided to engage themselves in some sexual activities, they are aware of how to protect themselves.
Girls will be taught on different aspects such as when and how they can get pregnant and what the different stages might bring in their lives.
What the teenagers say
17-year-old Julienne Uwase says that the first time she heard about sexual matters, it was in a hush-hush discussion with her friends at school.
She says that her parents can never utter anything on the matter as they consider it a forbidden topic, at least not to be brought up in public.
“My parents have never talked to me about sex, the only information I have is what I got from my friends which I think might even be misleading. I think parents, especially mothers, should try to be open so that they tell us all we need to know, this will prevent many misfortunes,” Uwase says.
Chantal Utamuriza, a 19-year-old high school graduate, says that parents always aim at preserving their kids’ innocence until they are fully grown and think of intervention when things are already messed up.
”They shouldn’t keep such matters a secret because children always find out, and if not from their parents, they might end up getting wrong information from the wrong sources,” Utamuriza says.
What parents say
Florence Numukobwa, a mother of two teenage daughters, says that addressing the issue of sex to a child is intricate. However, parents should endeavour doing so because keeping silent won’t help the situation.
“I know it’s hard, especially with us mothers to discuss sexual matters with our children, but I would advise parents to at least bring in a relative, like an auntie, to intervene as this will be easier for the child too,” Numukobwa says.
She adds that a child’s exposure to information about sex starts at an early age, therefore keeping it a secret means that a parent will have little control over what their child learns about sex later when they grow up.
Gloria Kanyange, a mother of three, is of the view that through sex education, a parent has the opportunity to instill family values amongst children.
“It’s during such discussions that you get a chance to advise your child that sex is meant to be saved for marriage - that is if your family has such a belief. You also get to warn them about the dangers involved,” Kanyange says.
She, however, advises parents not to taint sexual relations because this would give the children a whole different perspective.
Sex education - tips for parents
Many parents find it difficult to talk to their children about sexual matters. Simple tips and a range of practical suggestions are available that may help to open the lines of communication.
How parents communicate
Research suggests that parents generally aren’t very confident about discussing sexual issues with their children. Common findings from the research include:
•Fathers tend to avoid taking part in sex education discussions.
•When fathers do talk to their children about sex, they limit the conversation to less intimate issues.
•Mothers are more likely to talk about intimate, emotional and psychological aspects of sex than fathers.
•Mothers talk more about sex to their daughters than their sons.
•Parents tend to leave boys in the dark about female sexual issues such as menstruation.
•Parents may assume the school system will take care of their child’s sex education, and so choose to say nothing.
•Parents may postpone talks about sex until they see evidence of the child having a relationship; for example, if their child starts dating or comes home with a love bite on their neck.
•Parents tend to show embarrassed or awkward body language when talking to their child about sex: for example, avoiding eye contact.
How children react
Younger children may be curious and interested when parents talk about sexual issues. Older children, particularly teenagers, tend to be a less willing audience. Research findings include:
•An older child may feel like they know it all and that their parents couldn’t possibly teach them anything.
•An older child can be dismissive when their parents discuss sex with them, which shakes parental confidence.
•The child can feel as embarrassed and awkward as their parents, and may prefer not to talk about sex with them at all.
•If parents don’t ever broach the subject of sex, the child tends to assume the parents don’t want to talk about it - so the child never bothers to ask.
Families that talk openly about sexual issues share certain traits, which include:
•The parents are good listeners.
•The parents provide truthful answers to the child’s questions.
•The child is allowed to have opinions about sexual issues and voice them without fear of getting yelled at or punished.
•The parents don’t insist that the child stick to strict and inflexible standards of behaviour.
•The child feels listened to, understood and supported by the parents.
•Learn as much as you can – issues your older child or teenager is keen to hear you talk about include puberty, menstruation, reproduction, sexually transmitted diseases, contraception, unplanned pregnancy, abortion, homosexuality and premarital sex. The more you know, the less you’ll stumble.
•Have back-up information – get age-appropriate books, articles and videos to help you.
•Make it a regular topic – think of sex education as an ongoing process. Smaller, frequent conversations are better than a big, one-off talk.
•Plan ahead – don’t wait for your child to bring the subject up; they may figure you’re unapproachable and not ask you. Plan to start the conversations about sex yourself.
•Aim for a friendly chat – try to see the talks as two-way discussions, not lectures. Plan to ask what your child thinks and feels. Aim to get a lively discussion going.
If you feel shy or embarrassed, say so and laugh about it. Perhaps you could have a chat about why sexual issues are so difficult to discuss. This can help ease the tension.
If you can’t bring yourself to talk about something, tell your child that you’ll find other ways to get the information to them. For example, you could get books, articles or videos on the subject.
If you don’t know the answer to something, say so. Ideally, you and your child could research the answer together.
Sex education is vital
Sex education is the ultimate tool towards enlightening young people about the negative effects of early sex, and other sexual activities. It promotes awareness on the bad outcome of engaging in sexual activities. Parents should take the initiative to teach their children about sexual reproductive health.
The youth need guidance
I think sex education is a potential tool to enlighten the youth on their bodies and how to stay healthy. This not only provides guidance to safe health, but also gives the youth a chance to value their bodies.
The government should spearhead this initiative
We have seen positive results from children who received sex education. In my opinion, the government should take the lead in promoting this initiative, aiming at establishing a healthy young generation.
Enlighten children on the dangers of teen sex
Today’s generation is sexually active, and with the influence of peer pressure, a child feels like he/she wants to explore everything. And with little or no knowledge about their sexual feelings and how to deal with them in a healthy way, many end up in trouble. I look at sex education as an initiative that helps young people avoid the dangers that come with pre-marital sex.
Compiled by Dennis Agaba