What you need to know:
- Lack of comprehensive information on sexual health plays a big role in the prevalence of HIV and early pregnancies.
- CSE equips students with the knowledge necessary to make informed and healthy decisions about their sexual health.
A recent report by the National Syndemic Disease Control Council on HIV prevalence in Kenya is worrying. Out of the 17,680 new infections, 41 per cent are individuals aged 15-24 years. This trend extends to teen pregnancies with alarming rates recorded in Samburu County at 24 per cent and Homa Bay at 22 per cent for teen pregnancies this year.
Various factors contribute to the prevalence of HIV and early pregnancies, including retrogressive cultural behaviours, poverty, and peer pressure. Lack of comprehensive information on sexual health plays a big role in this aspect. In today's tech-driven world, children are exposed to sexual content through skewed or age-inappropriate sources, mainly on social media. This leaves them to glean information from unreliable sources. They also meet individuals seeking sexual relations with them.
We face a critical choice: turning a blind eye, allowing young people to learn solely from social media or potentially exploitative individuals, or empowering them with accurate and comprehensive information within the school system?
The introduction of comprehensive sex education (CSE) is grounded in essential considerations. It plays a pivotal role in preventing early pregnancies, reducing new HIV infections, and curbing the resurgence of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). It equips students with the knowledge necessary to make informed and healthy decisions about their sexual health. Without proper awareness, students may fall back on myths and misconceptions about sex, exacerbated by the rampant misinformation prevalent on social media. CSE offers a reliable source of information, debunking myths and ensuring students have a well-rounded understanding of human sexuality.
Lack of awareness leaves children vulnerable to exploitation. Education on how to recognise and report inappropriate behaviour, understanding personal boundaries, and information about their bodies, relationships, and sexuality at an age-appropriate level can protect children from sexual abuse. This forms the foundation for a healthy understanding of sexuality.
Education through CSE can also contribute significantly to advancing gender equality by dismantling retrogressive gender roles. Reduced early pregnancies would enable more girls to pursue their aspirations, narrowing the existing gender gap. Additionally, CSE aligns with global and national commitments to children's and adolescents' rights.
Despite its evident benefits, CSE has faced opposition and scepticism due to its content. Critics argue that it could erode cultural and religious beliefs. Some fear it might promote homosexuality among children. Misconceptions and a lack of understanding about it have led many to shy away from its implementation. Some stakeholders, including parents and policymakers, may be unfamiliar with its evidence-based nature and age-appropriate approach. Additionally, opponents fear that providing information on sexuality could encourage early sexual debut. Research, however, suggests the opposite, associating CSE with delayed initiation of sexual activity and increased contraceptive use.
Unfortunately, CSE lacks political support. Because of Kenya's conservative political environment, lawmakers avoid endorsing it for fear of going against their constituents' wishes. The absence of clear policy support at the national level contributes to its exclusion.
For the benefit of children, it is crucial for the government and stakeholders to collaborate and develop a comprehensive document that addresses CSE concerns. Its introduction in schools should consider cultural sensitivities and deliver age-appropriate content to ensure acceptability. The successful implementation of such programs in Kenya requires collaborative efforts involving educators, parents, policymakers, and health professionals.
The writer is a Nguvu Collective Change Leader currently championing an online petition on the introduction of comprehensive sex education in schools