India: The need for sex education in schools

Since the first case was detected in the 1980s, AIDS has become one of the largest killers in the world. Every day, some 7,200 young people are contracting HIV in the world. In India, 15% of HIV/AIDS patients are children under 15 years of age. At a time when HIV infection is rising steadily, sex education – and its presence in the curriculum - has become a burning problem and a matter of hot debate in the country.

In India, the Adolescent Education Programme (AEP) launched in schools by the Ministry of Human Resource Development, has run into trouble. Teachers have been warned that they would face the worst if they took on the programme and taught about sex in classrooms. Nine States have already banned the AEP programme. Now there is a serious question before educators, reformers and leaders as to how to save the country from HIV/AIDS. The reports of two recent (2006) surveys have been published: The Behavioural Surveillance Survey 2006 and the C-Force Survey, both conducted by The Hindustan Times. The C-Fore Survey found that 68% of people approved of sex education for school children. It also found 20% opposed sex education in schools, while 12% were of two minds. In all, 72% of the respondents in Delhi, Kolkatta, Mumbai, Chennai and Bangalore believe that children's information on sex is patchy and they are unequipped to tell myths from reality. A high 93% believe that teenagers should be given sex education at the secondary level and 37% favour elementary courses as they grow older. Only 7% want it at the primary level for 11-12 year olds and advanced courses as they grow older. The study also found 78% want lessons on safe sex including contraception. Of this, 26% do not agree that contraception promotes sexual activity. The survey reveals that only 6% think sex education should begin at home. One fifth of citizens in metropolitan areas believe that sex education is against Indian culture. The government can not do away with sexual curiosity among children and young people. There are many ways to teach children about sex. In most African countries, sex education has only one purpose: to fight HIV infection. In Japan and China sex is taught conservatively in biological terms. In European countries, sex education includes bodily changes, relationships, homosexuality, abortion, child abuse, use of alcohol and drugs. If the Indian AEP programme is found to be confused and unsuitable, India can draw certain useful lessons from the syllabus and curriculum of European countries. It can consider adapting the Scottish model which, on running into trouble with Catholic schools, immediately initiated a separate sex education programme called “Call to Love,” which is more in tune with the sensitivity of the children and teachers. By whatever means necessary, the Government of India needs to come up with a solution which takes account of the cultural sensitivities of the parents, but ultimately which provides the vital education which could make the difference between life and death for a lot of children. By Dharam Vijay Pandit, General Secretary, All India Federation of Teachers Organisations

This article was published in Worlds of Education, Issue 25, February/March 2008.

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