‘What is rape, porn?’: Pupils flounder as sex education not taught in schools | delhi | Hindustan Times
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‘What is rape, porn?’: Pupils flounder as sex education not taught in schools

With sex-ed not figuring on the syllabi of most schools, students often get information from biased or inaccurate sources.

delhi Updated: Dec 15, 2016 09:08 IST
A Mariyam Alavi and Heena Kausar
Sex education doesn’t figure in the syllabi of most schools.
Sex education doesn’t figure in the syllabi of most schools.(Representative image)

‘What is rape?’‘What is porn?’ ‘What is oral sex?’

These were just some of the questions a counsellor at a leading Delhi private school faced during sex education workshops for sixth to eighth graders. Many students said they didn’t feel comfortable asking these questions at home and hence relied on counsellors to provide this information, crucial for adolescent years.

But such instances are few and far between. With sex education not figuring in the syllabi of most schools, students are left to their own resources – which are often biased or inaccurate -- to try and find answers to questions that profoundly influence their behavior and often shape the kind of adults they grow up to be.

A 2006-07 study in India found that just 0-2% of young men and 1- 6% of young women had discussed romantic relationships and reproductive processes with either parent.

At least 47% of women and 16% men never received any information on sexual matters from anybody despite 78% young women and 83% young men being in favour of imparting sex education or family-life education to the youth.

This is a disturbing trend, experts say, and points to the general apathy about sex education at a time rapes and crimes against women make national headlines almost every day.

They say the absence of education and information on sex, sexuality and gender can lead to distorted attitudes towards women that may feed a culture that normalises rape and sexual violence. “Sex education on its own cannot help reduce rapes and other violent crimes. It has to be an integration of sex education, adolescent life education and sexuality education for it to be effective,” said Dr Samir Parikh, a psychiatrist at Fortis Hospitals in the city.

SEX EDUCATION IN THE AGE OF INFORMATION

Sex education faces stiff resistance from conservative sections of society who take offence at the term ‘sex’. Many fear sex education may encourage young impressionable students to engage in frivolous sexual experimentation. However, many others -- including the Justice Verma committee that advised states to provide “clear, well informed and scientifically grounded sexuality education” -- have dispelled these fears as unfounded.

“Research does not indicate early sexual initiation on account of sex education…on the contrary, there is better and more responsible sexual behaviour as the information is made available in a scientifically accurate, non-judgmental, age appropriate and carefully phased process,” said the report of the committee set up to relook at India’s rape laws after the December 2012 gang rape case.

The second problem is that in the age of internet, ready-made information and data about sex is available to children just a click away – but experts fear that most of this is unreliable or grossly distorted.

“Are children getting the right information? Is this in a child-friendly format? If not given the right information and education at the right age, they will grow up with distorted ideas about sex, sexuality and gender,” said Rupal Ahuja, the counsellor at Springdales School, Pusa Road.

To plug the gap, experts say, educators and counselors need to furnish students with informed answers for even the most uncomfortable questions, especially in a society where parents still find these conversations too embarrassing.

But it is often easier said than done. A counsellor at a private school in Delhi recalled how a class 6 student once asked what “porn” was. Instead of dismissing the child, or asking the student to “not ask unnecessary questions”, the counsellor patiently explained the term and its ramifications.

“The next day, I had parents and yell at me for ‘teaching’ obscenity to kids. I had to sit them down and tell them how the kid could have searched for the term on the internet if I had not answered his question, where he would be faced with a lot of inappropriate content,” said the counsellor.

The lack of a state-level policy on sex education also means that most schools do not offer any support to adolescents faced with myriad newfound questions about their changing bodies, attractions, intimacies, sexual urges and relationships, among others. Government schools run the ‘Yuva Life Skills’ classes that screens movies about ‘good touch, bad touch’ and conduct activities to break gender stereotypes.

Fact Sheet: How Schools Fare
  • Justice Verma Committee favoured introduction of sex education as an integral part of curriculum
  • But sex-education is non-existent in most schools
  • Students are usually only taught the biology of puberty and reproduction, primarily during science classes
  • State Council for Education and Research Training developed ‘Yuva Life Skills’ programme, which does not have any direct reference to sex education. It teaches value education, life skills and gender- sensitisation
  • SCERT officials say the programme is optional and it is up to schools to conduct the classes
  • Under the programme, students are assigned tasks. For instance, they are told to draw a farming community and then asked how many of them drew male farmers and how many drew female farmers.

However, some principals contend that even if they find the time and resources needed to conduct these classes, there is no guarantee how the message is relayed as the onus of teaching the subject falls on the teacher.

“Some teachers are reluctant to talk about these issues. Others like to ‘scare’ students into decency. They sometimes even skip the entire session, or admonish students if they come forward with doubts. Now for a child who comes from a conservative family, where such questions may never be entertained, the school has to be a ‘safe space’ where they can discuss these issues,” said H Akhtar, vice-principal of Sarvodaya Vidyalaya in Jor Bagh.

Such methods are also taken up by some of the more conservative institutions.

“The nuns at our schools are completely against us even talking to boys. They discourage any sort of interaction, and keep scaring us about their ‘intentions.’ Why can’t I be just friends with a boy? Even if I do feel attracted to a boy, is that unnatural? If I don’t do anything, but just think a boy is nice, am I still wrong?” asked a student of a leading convent school in Delhi.

Such a discourse of fear around topics such as sex and sexuality confuses already vulnerable young children further, said a psychiatrist in Delhi.

“Let’s be clear, we need to encourage abstinence for school children as the healthier choice. But we should not say that it is because sex is something dirty, or ‘sinful.’ It should be discouraged because young teenagers are not emotionally ready for the emotional, social and cognitive repercussions of sexual experimentation,” he said.

The importance of gender sensitisation at school is probably articulated best by Rajeshwari Kapri, principal of Government Girls’ Senior Secondary School in Sonia Vihar, who said, “We are building nations inside the classrooms. At this age, if we can teach them to treat all genders as equals then it will stay with them forever.”