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Talking to children about sex is never easy, but it is extremely essential to make the kids aware about this hush-hush topic because we live in a nation where a woman needs to be under constant surveillance or with a male companion in order to feel safe.
Under Indian Law, the legal minimum age for marriage of girls was set at 18 years and for boys, it is 21 years. According to the National Family and Health Survey 2016, it was found that 27% of girls below 18 years were married, and out of them, 31% were teenage mothers.
This increasing number of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases are enough to understand why sex education in schools is the need of the hour today.
Also, data from UNAIDS Ending AIDS Report 2017 mentioned that at the end of 2016, India had 2.1 million people living with HIV.
In an exclusive interview with Boldsky, 18-year-old Niyati Sharma, the founder of Pratisandhi, shares her thoughts on why it is essential to encourage sex education in Indian schools.
Pratisandhi is an initiative that spreads sexual awareness among students and women in Delhi and it will be soon active in Hyderabad too, mentioned Niyati.
"Matters concerning sexual health have become so stigmatised in our society today that we often take for granted how important it really is. If we want to become a part of a society that is accepting, communicative, and consisting of individuals who prioritise their needs and pleasures, then we need to start imparting such values from a young age," she said.
How Pratisandhi Is Helping To Create Sexual Health Awareness In Schools
Founded in 2018, Pratisandhi has been spreading awareness related to sex education to the students across 20+ schools, shelters and NGOs for the past one year. Today, the team has reached about 3000+ students and women. They carry out awareness programme, where the young children are taught about good and bad touch, and how to communicate about sexual abuse with their parents.
Niyati recalls, "The idea to launch an initiative like Pratisandhi didn't occur to me until 2016 when I went for a year-long cultural exchange program to Belgium. On one of the days in school, we were made to fill out questionnaires about how sexually active we were and what contraception methods we used. This was really strange to me because sexual and reproductive health wasn't really spoken about at Indian schools and I began to look into the possibility of bringing this conversation into the public sphere."
She continues, "Our goal is not just to educate those who already have a certain degree of exposure, but to invite those who haven't been or chosen not to be a part of this narrative in the past. We don't want to offend people, instead, we want people to recognise how important this subject is, at a pace comfortable to them, without badgering them into it. This can only happen when the process is gradual."
When asked if her team has faced any problem in continuing with their work, Niyati says, "So far we have been fortunate enough to not face any major backlash for the subjects that we discuss in schools, but we do constantly expect it which is why we try to tread it lightly. It's quite challenging to find a balance between being bold and opening conversation on this heavily stigmatised subject, while also being culturally and morally sensitive."
Why Sex Education Is Important In Schools
For people, especially parents and teachers who think sex education means teaching children about sex, they are absolutely wrong. It is essential to understand that providing sex education to school children means teaching them about the issues related to sexual health, sexual hygiene, reproduction, sexual abuse and the sexual rights of a human.
It is also about teaching children about good touch and bad touch and includes the hormonal and physical changes among teenagers. Students are taught how to accept these changes. It helps young students know about their sexual orientation as well. Same is with sexual health awareness. Teenagers can make grave mistakes if they do not have proper knowledge about sex or what can be harmful to their emotional and physical health.
"Obviously, this doesn't mean that we need to teach 10-year-old about sex. Sexual education is an ongoing process that needs to be done in an age-appropriate manner, also ensuring that it's not clouded by moral judgement," said Niyati.
While many still think that a teenager should not have access to sex education, but making them aware is necessary so that they can pull themselves out from difficult situations. Also, it will help them to-
- Understand and accept the physical changes when girls and boys are in their adolescent stages.
- Accept the menstrual cycle (in case of girls) as a normal and natural thing when they hit puberty.
- Learn what consent is and how to protect themselves from sexual abuse/assault. Only then young children will be able to understand if someone is sexually abusing them or not and how they can come out of it.
- Have a clear idea about what safe sex is and how they can prevent themselves from getting affected by sexually transmitted diseases. This will also make them aware of the right age to have sex or conceive.
Emphasizing on the benefits of sex education, Niyati told Boldsky, "Students especially feel very comfortable talking to our team since it's easier to approach someone who's within your age bracket and can relate to you."
What Teachers Can Do
Teachers spend a significant amount of time with students and school is more like a second home to kids. It is the duty of the teachers to ensure that the students have proper knowledge about sexual health, hygiene, menstrual cycle, sexual abuse, pregnancy and issues related to sex. Not just that, they also understand the meaning of 'consent'.
Niyati believes, "Sex Education will not only help students to know about sex, but also other things like taking care of their health, being able to effectively communicate their wants and desires, and other related concepts like body image and peer pressure."
Teachers also have to look after the fact that the kids do not cover themselves in shame when important issues like these are discussed. It is the responsibility of the teachers to connect with the children and help create awareness about these taboo topics. Sessions can be always informative and interactive.
They should encourage an environment where students should feel comfortable to ask their doubts and gain knowledge. "It certainly takes a little bit of getting used to but I believe once a certain rapport and trust level has been built, people feel much more comfortable," she further added.
We hope sex education will experience a warm welcome by not only teachers and students, but also by the parents. Instead of constantly worrying about your child, is it not better to empower them with proper knowledge so that they can take care of themselves?