2016 Oct 5
by Vandana Hiranand
Over the years, the education system in Sri Lanka has flourished, with a large number of prestigious schools spread widely across the country. Nevertheless, there is a noticeable gap in our education system – the complete lack of any sexual and reproductive health education.
Through mandatory Biology lessons, we all learnt the science beyond reproduction, of course. However, that marks the extent of sexual education any Sri Lankan child has received. The stigma behind this subject within our society has even blocked the idea of providing these classes for teenagers across the country. In fact, many teachers tend to gloss over the conception process within Biology, due to embarrassment.
The young population is not taught about various important factors, which can have very serious consequences. Many do not understand the need for contraception. Furthermore, the vast majority is ignorant about the types of contraception available, their effects, and how to obtain such contraception.
Several studies conducted by the UNICEF have shown that knowledge of sexually transmitted diseases is even lower among teenagers and young adults. Many who are sexually active are unaware of the many prevalent STD’s, how they are contracted, and how to be safe. A minority of children and adults both are well-educated on contraception due to these dangers, and recognize its importance. As a result, the rate of unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases is steadily on the rise.
The largest issue is the lack of open conversation regarding these topics. Young people do not feel comfortable approaching adults to discuss any concerns they might have. A majority of Sri Lankan parents never bring up the topic of sex and reproduction with their children, as speaking of it is considered taboo. The reproductive health services which are available are not widely taught of, either. Thus teenagers may find it tough to approach anyone with questions and concerns, when confused about these areas and in times of difficulty as well.
Sexual education for adolescents has been recognized as a large concern globally. To safeguard the population from these many dangers, this needs to be taught in schools across the country. It is not productive to turn a blind eye and maintain pretence that adolescents do not need this education. If these issues are spoken of without any attached stigma, open conversation can begin to flow more freely, and students will feel comfortable about speaking to adults regarding their many concerns. This, in turn, will no doubt decrease the levels of unplanned pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, and other reproductive health concerns. In fact, the facilitation of open conversation regarding these issues will help develop our society as a whole. As generations go by, the negative stigma attached to these basic needs will lessen.
Furthermore, providing sexual education will provide schools with the opportunity to educate children and adolescents regarding consent. Sexual harassment, rape, and street harassment are extremely common issues in today’s world. Sadly, even highly educated individuals belong to the group of people who sexually harass and rape. Children are not educated regarding consent, and this can have a highly negative effect.
With the introduction of these topics, individuals will begin to learn the concept of consent from a very young age. This will contribute enormously towards decreasing the prevalence of sexual harassment, and harassment in other forms as well. This concept can be introduced to children, teaching them the importance of consent and that ‘no means no’.
Family planning is a highly neglected area as well. This topic goes hand in hand with contraception, yet is rarely spoken of. Students need to be provided with this information and knowledge. They must be provided with an entity to approach comfortably and speak freely of these matters.
Education must not be limited to academics. Sexual and reproductive health is a large concern. To ignore this area is having a negative impact on our younger generation and society as a whole. Sri Lanka needs to establish the implementation of classes and workshops to teach students about these topics.
We need to facilitate open conversation – without shame, and without stigma.