Irrespective of which nook in the world they are growing up, kids today are coming of age earlier than ever before. Be it MTV Loveline, Sin City comics, titillating advertisements or videos games like Lara Croft and Larry, children are increasingly being bombarded with sex.
As a result governments have realised that sexual curiosity or puberty cannot be done away with. In fact there are as many ways to teach children about sex, as there are to teach them about God. Today there exists a whole spectrum of sex education models that range from the conservative, to the comprehensive and even the confused.
In most African nations, sex education has a limited purpose, i.e to fight off the dangerous AIDS infection. School children in Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda are taught the 'ABC' of HIV prevention. The WHO notes that in Uganda this has increased condom use and thereby reduced the overall rates of HIV infection. Apart from limited curriculums, certain other countries like Japan and China teach sex conservatively, in the form of biology. If in Japan, sex education is limited to menstruation and ejaculation, then in China, it is reduced to teaching the reproduction section of biology textbooks. And while these programmes do educate children, they are not as well planned or even coordinated as those in Europe.
Sex education has been around in Europe since the 70’s and includes bodily changes, sexual activity, relationships, homosexuality, complications of abortion and child abuse. If in France, schools are expected to provide 30 to 40 hours of sex education, then in Germany, schools offer courses on how to use contraception. And UK’s Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) educates children on sex, alcohol, drugs and other issues relevant to their age and maturity. But unlike the rest of Europe where opting out is allowed, Scandinavian countries have made sex education complusory.
In Sweden sex education is taught to children between ages 7 and 10, by formally incorporating it into different subjects such as biology, geography, history and even politics. In Finland, the Population and Family Welfare Federation gives its 15-year-olds an introductory sexual package that includes an information brochure on sex and a condom. And the Dutch government’s “Long Live Love” package, gives its teenagers the skills to make informed decisions regarding health and sexuality. The curriculum here focuses on biological aspects of reproduction as well as on values, attitudes, and sexual responsibility. The UNICEF notes that this intense preparation has not pushed these youngsters to having sex earlier. For example, in Sweden youngsters typically lose their virginity at age 17, exactly the same age as 15 years ago.
India wih its highly malformed and confused Adolescent Education Programme (AEP) could take a leaf out of the the UK model which gives its teachers indepth training to teach sex in an intelligent manner. It could also get inspired from the Dutch approach that incorporates sex education in all subject discussions. Or better yet it could consider adapting the Scottish model which on running into trouble with Catholic schools immediately initiated a separate sex education program called a “Call to Love,” more in tune with the senstivities of the children and teachers of these particular schools.