It is a three letter word; very simple but the mere mention of it can cause many to wonder what is going on. The word is ‘sex’ but the focus here is not on ‘sex’ per se but the right to sex education for young people.
Sex education is the process of getting information and forming attitudes and beliefs about sex, relationships and intimacy. It also aims at providing young people with skills so that they can make informed choices.
Young people have little or no information about sexual issues which has dire consequences for them. However, most parents and guardians are also in a dilemma as to what to do in order not to ‘corrupt’ the minds of young people about sexual issues.
Right to education
Young people have a right to sex education because it helps them to be well informed about matters that affect them and also protect themselves against abuse, exploitation, unintended pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and HIV and AIDS.
The Executive Director of Child Rights International, Mr Bright Appiah, shares this view and notes that parents have to talk to their children about sex because it is part of human activity and the process of development.
Young people get information about sexual issues from a wide range of sources including the media, Internet, peers, magazines, books, television and advertising. Some of these, obviously, would be accurate but others inaccurate.
Therefore, Mr Appiah said providing information through sex education was therefore about finding out what young people already know and adding to their existing knowledge and correcting any misinformation they might have.
The executive director was worried that some people used various means to lure children to do things that did not augur well for them, especially in the case of child prostitution, and stressed the need for the law enforcement agencies and all other organisations working for children to ensure that children were protected.
Another issue Mr Appiah noted was the children’s use of the Internet, pointing out that whereas in other countries there were policies and regulations that governed the extent to which children could have access to certain information on the Internet, “in our society everything is opened up so a child can have access to any information on the Internet.”
Therefore, he said, society must take a look at the usage of the Internet by children and fashion out how to regulate what has been made available to them.
Furthermore, he said it would be beneficial for private organisations also to come up with policies that would be in line with the goals of the state in relation to the welfare of children so that in the environment each of them worked, they would be in a position to prevent children from getting access to certain information.
A major challenge, however, for parents, teachers and guardians is what information to give out at what age and even how to go about it.
“The fact is I can’t talk about sex with my children. What do I tell them? It’s a very uncomfortable topic to talk about. Maybe my wife will do that,” said Mr Kofi Ekuban, a public servant.
According to Mr Appiah, sex education should start at the developmental stages of the child where they begin to acknowledge the existence of society, which is usually at age three.
He said it was important to note that sex education did not only involve the sensitive parts of the body and if a parent was to start sex education at age three, he or she needed to know what to say from the beginning gradually so that he/she would provide what would be relevant to the child at each step of the way, paying attention to the child’s particular age.
Child development experts
Child development experts also say sex education should start early, before young people reach puberty, and before they have developed established patterns of behaviour.
The precise age at which information should be provided, according to experts, depends on the physical, emotional and intellectual development of young people as well as their level of understanding. What is covered and also how depends on who is providing the education, when they are providing it, and in what context, as well as what the individual young person wants to know.
It is important for sex education to begin at a young age and also that it is sustained. Giving young people basic information from an early age provides the foundation on which more complex knowledge is built up over time.
Changes in children
For example, when they are very young, children can be informed about how people grow and change over time, and this provides the basis on which they understand more detailed information about puberty provided in the pre-teenage years. They can also be provided with information about viruses and germs that attack the body.
This provides the basis for talking to them later about infections that can be caught through sexual contact.
Mr Appiah said parents needed to have a relationship with their children and let them know they (children) could talk to them about anything without being rebuked. He also encouraged parents to have one-on-one discussions about sex with their children at home.
“Naturally, many parents and young people feel shy about talking about sexual issues but there is the need for parents to have an open relationship with children since that provides them (young people) with opportunities to ask questions.”
“Culture also comes to play here. Sex is almost like a ‘taboo’ topic to be discussed openly, which makes it difficult for parents to know when and how to raise issues on any topic,” Mr Appiah noted.
Commenting on the Junior Graphic facebook wall post of “Should parents talk to their children about sex,” Maame Ama Tiwaah Fordjour said: “Yes, they should. Parents should tell us about sex and the dangers involved in it especially during the adolescent years so we do not indulge in it. They should also advise us on the need to remain chaste.”
Another comment by Benzema Prince Kelly: “It’s necessary especially for mothers to do that because ignorance kills. But most parents just can’t do it and don’t do it expecting teachers to take up that task. Unfortunately, they also don’t have time for that. Parents need to do this.”
For Emmanuel Jones, sex education is necessary because it will prevent teenage pregnancies.