Empower adolescents through comprehensive sexual education

Published on Nov 16, 2022 11:29 AM IST

The article has been authored by Debanjana Choudhuri, gender and climate specialist.

From Iesha Learning’s previous sex education workshops. (Photos courtesy: Iesha learning )
From Iesha Learning’s previous sex education workshops. (Photos courtesy: Iesha learning )
ByHindustan Times

About 21% of the Indian population is adolescents (about 243 million). They represent an important demographic and economic force and the country's future. Adolescent girls who live in poverty must contend with the effects of climate change, problems with their sexual health brought on by negligent medical care, and a lack of adequate sexual and reproductive health services (SRHS).

In India, data on the adolescents from national surveys including National Family Health Survey III (NFHS-3), District Level Household & Facility Survey III and Sample Registration System call for focused attention with respect to health and social development for adolescent children. However, research shows that mostly adolescents lack the knowledge required to make those decisions responsibly, leaving them vulnerable to coercion, sexually-transmitted infections (STIs), and unintended pregnancy.

Comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) enables young people to protect and advocate for their health, well-being and dignity by providing them with a necessary toolkit of knowledge, attitudes and skills. It is a requirement for engaging in complete bodily autonomy, which calls for both the legal right to make decisions about one's body and the knowledge necessary to do so in a meaningful manner. These programmes also improve gender equality, adolescents’ rights, and empowerment because they are based on human rights concepts.

Adolescents receive inconsistent information about relationships and sex, while they make the transition from childhood to adulthood. This has led to an increasing demand from young people for genuine information, which prepares them for productive, safe, and fulfilling life. When properly implemented, CSE satisfies this need by giving young people the knowledge and skills they need to navigate a society where gender-based violence, gender inequity, early and unwanted pregnancy, HIV, and other STIs continue to pose severe risks to their health and well-being. In addition, a lack of high-quality, developmentally and age-appropriate sexuality education may expose adolescents to risky sexual behaviours and sexual exploitation.

CSE plays a vital role in addressing the health and well-being of adolescents by applying a learner-centered approach, CSE not only provides children and adolescents with age-appropriate and phased education on relationships, human rights, reproduction, sexual behaviours risks, gender equality, and prevention of ill health, but also gives an opportunity to present sexuality with a positive light by highlighting values such as inclusion, respect, non-discrimination, empathy, equality, responsibility, and reciprocity.

Adolescents SRH must be supported and empowered by policy and decision-makers providing access to comprehensive sexuality education; services to diagnose, prevent and treat STIs; and counselling on family planning. Additionally, empowering girls to know and exercise their rights – including the right to delay marriage and the right to refuse unwanted sexual advances.

The article has been authored by Debanjana Choudhuri, gender and climate specialist.

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