Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Sex Education and the Sri Lankan Female

Sindhu De Livera

We live in a harsh world full of realities few are willing to face.  Sex crimes are the norm but sex is a taboo topic in almost every circle of society. The common idea is that sex is dirty, crude, and therefore inappropriate for public discussion. Those who speak about it openly are labelled “corrupted” or “ill-bred”.  Regardless, the matter remains:  females are at great risk by remaining oblivious to this knowledge. They are more susceptible to sexual predators when their knowledge on such a vital topic is limited. How is one to protect one’s self from something if one does not know the basic concepts related to it?

Since the topic is a somewhat awkward one, parents are hesitant to enlighten their children and assume that the school authorities will do it for them; it might be covered in the health science syllabus. Surely, parents think, it is the teacher’s duty to give this education at some point? Also, according to most parents, their children are too young to know anyway.

Teachers on the other hand are also embarrassed by the topic, and find the task of speaking about such a sensitive topic to a room full of giggling students daunting. The topic is rushed through, with a very hazy knowledge finally given to the student.

In this education- what little of it is received- an integral section is overlooked for cultural and religious reasons: contraception. The idea stressed upon is complete and utter abstinence; clearly an impractical one judging by the number of unwed mothers and illegal abortions being performed in Sri Lanka.  The writer is not against abstinence being advocated; however it would be incredibly foolish not to teach protection as well since it can assist in avoiding most, if not all, of the issues arising out of unprotected sexual activity.
One main argument against creating awareness among minors about contraceptive methods is the notion that minors are more likely to engage in sexual activity, should they be furnished with this knowledge. 

Nevertheless, according to Dr. Jennifer Ashton, a teen health expert and the author of a book on this topic, “the data clearly shows if you give teenagers all the information, they are, in fact, less likely to engage in sex or premature reproductive behaviour than if they're only taught selectively about things like abstinence. If they are not taught about birth control, they are more likely to get into trouble”. Educators and parents alike should take heed of this information and take measures to integrate the topic of contraception into their discussions positively.

It is heartening to note that in the recent camps the new undergraduates to Sri Lankan universities attended, sex education and contraception was extensively discussed.  Although the writer commends this, it must be noted that most of the attendees were learning of these topics comprehensively from a legitimate source for the very first time. Staving off this topic until the students are at the end of their school education is unacceptable; there are countless incidents where girls as young as 12 have made the mistake of having unprotected sex and have had to deal with the consequences.

Alternatively, this need for knowledge about contraception applies not only to youth but to those who are married as well, as shown in an UNFPA publication on Sri Lanka - a majority of illegal abortions in Sri Lanka are conducted on married women.

Due to contraception not being used and the resultant pregnancy, many women and minors have been abandoned and left to find shelter for themselves and their newly born infants without any means by which to support themselves. Recall the incident in which a desperate mother, with five children to feed and take care of, who threw her new born child into the Kalu Ganga River. There are numerous similar cases where newly born infants are disposed of in garbage bins, abandoned on the wayside and even killed after birth. Most of these situations could have been avoided if information about contraception, and the use of it was more widespread.

It is for this reason that one must take a broader, pragmatic view, not constrained to theoretical religious and cultural ideologies, to create a space in which sex can be spoken about freely- where correct and practical information is made accessible to those who need it. It is both the duty of parents and schools to see that this vital and possibly life-saving education is freely available.  Reform must be made to school syllabi to include a comprehensive and objective insight into sex and contraception.

Victorian attitudes towards this topic and the action needed may make society seem more functional and moral on a superficial level but would ignore, and potentially exacerbate, the existing situation when a clear solution is readily available.

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