According to UNFPA Sri Lanka representative regarding Sexual and Reproductive health rights, National Programme Analyst, Sarah Soysa, Comprehensive Sex Education (CSE) is the cross road at which education and health meet.
Sex education is an important part in young people’s lives, it can help prevent unwanted pregnancies, absence of knowledge leading to misuse of sexuality, protect against sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs). Sex education provides opportunity to learn about contraceptives, sexual orientation, and what it means to be in a healthy relationship. Above all, sex education is the provision of information about relationships, sexuality, sex and bodily development along with skills-development to help the youth to communicate about and make informed decisions and right choices regarding sex and sexual health.
However, the local education system shies away from the so-called taboo topic, while the Ministry of Education emphasizes the need to raise awareness regarding sex education among students. The Ministry of Health complains of unsafe abortions and sky-rocketing STD rates due to lack of information in our school curriculum, making it a responsibility of the Ministry of Education to teach CSE.
Sri Lankan school curriculum gives grades 7, 8, 9 an introduction to reproductive health, puberty and provides less detailed information on sexually transmitted infections. However it doesn’t put much weight on topics such as relationships, sexual orientation, consent, contraception and pregnancy prevention, decision-making, Media literacy and sexuality, sex, and sexual response.
Health and Physical Education becomes optional after grade 9. Sexual and reproductive anatomy and physiology are exclusive to students who study biology for their A/Ls, making other students vulnerable and uninformed young adults.
Most Sri Lankan Health and Physical education teachers, uncomfortable with teaching the taboo topic, skip reproductive health lessons, requesting students to study the lesson at home, emphasizing they are not able to teach the sexual health education in curriculum due to ethical, moral and religious differences, said Director of Agenda 14, Anoomaa Rajakaruna during a Media workshop conducted by UNFPA Sri Lanka recently.
Speaking to Ceylon Today, Director of Education School Health and Nutrition Branch, Renuka Peiris said some teachers hesitate to teach, but it depends on the person. However it is parents’ responsibility to give the “sex talk” to the children she emphasized. Moreover with the help of the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education is trying to coordinate workshops on CSE for A/L students before they graduate, but introducing contraceptive methods, explaining sexual relationships can be hard in our cultural context, said Peiris.
Speaking to Ceylon Today regarding the issue of repeated abortions in Sri Lanka, Director of the Health Promotion Bureau, Dr Paba Palihawadana said educating women regarding their reproductive health should be incorporated in schools. This includes providing accurate information and proper use of contraceptive methods. Sex education should be included in Sri Lankan textbooks in a delicate manner without offending culture and religion, said Dr Palihawadana.
If the teachers were properly trained on the subject, if proper technical terms were given in all the languages, if the proper guidelines were given, it will erase the gap in communication on sexual and reproductive health and rights so teachers can teach the subject with integrity said Assistant representative of UNFPA Sri Lanka, Family Planning Association Sri Lanka, Director – Public Affairs, Policy and Advocacy Madu Dissanayake.
With the help of UNAIDS and FPA, UNFPA Sri Lanka presented a Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Terminology Guide during 2015.
In Sri Lanka more than 600 women with unintended pregnancies choose abortion, and all of these procedures are unsafe, confirmed Family Health Bureau (FHB) on National Family Planning day 2018 adding among them most of the females undergo repeated abortion. National HIV/AIDS prevalence is 0.01 per cent; new infections are increasing, especially among young people, Stigma Assessment of people living with HIV in Sri Lanka stated.
The youth are more vulnerable to HIV, states UNFPA Sri lanka. Teenage pregnancies in Sri Lanka are at 5.2 per cent yet sub national disparities exist with a rate of eight to nine per cent states FHB in 2015. Menstrual Hygiene Management in schools in South Asia, UNICEF, Water AID study 2018 states 66 per cent of girls are not aware of menstruation until menarche.
“There’s a misconception that comprehensive sexuality education facilitates early onset of sexual activity, It has been proven that CSE actually avoids risky sexual behaviour, enabling youth to make informed choices” said UNFPA Sri Lanka representative Ritsu Nacken.
UNFPA Sri Lanka stated that Sri Lankan youth receive information on sexual and reproductive health (SRH) from “poorly informed sources” with limited CSE through the formal school system thus this puts adolescents and young people at risk of sexual and gender-based violence, exploitation, and harmful and negative health outcomes. Children have the right to lead healthy lives, the right to sex education and the school system have the responsibility to prepare adolescents by providing them with CSE that gives them the tools they need to make healthy decisions.
Sri Lankan education system needs to recognize that children have a right to sex education and will receive misleading information, if not properly educated at school.
According to UNFPA Sri Lanka, Sri Lankan children get to know about sexuality and related information for the first time not from schools and parents, but from friends and peers, electronic and printed materials and the Internet, which are likely to be misleading.
Misconceptions about sexual life should be cleared. Sex education is most an important need of modern era especially amongst developing nations like Sri Lanka. It’s important to raise awareness regarding the importance of CSE among teachers. Teachers should not hesitate to educate children regarding CSE and they should not project personal values upon the students.
The way to teach sexual health is as important as the information itself. When students feel like they belong, it encourages them to stay in school-to learn and succeed. Teachers and parents should support students in building healthy relationships with others, valuing diversity and showing respect, empathy and compassion.