According to a report by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) 2014, the right of access to age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education (AACSE) is grounded in fundamental human rights. It is a means to empower children and young people to have full control and protect their health, well-being, and dignity.
The same report defines “Age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education,” as a right-based gender-focused approach to sexuality education whether in or out of school. The aim of Comprehensive sexuality education is to equip children and young people with skills, attitudes, knowledge and values with the goal of developing a positive view of their sexuality in their emotional and social development.
It is, therefore, important for Kenyans among other stakeholders involved to understand age-appropriate sexuality education which goes beyond teen pregnancies, abstinence or HIV/AIDS. Comprehensive sexuality covers a whole range of benefits.
First, it enables children and young people to develop life skills by encouraging them to think critically about their life choices and communicate with confidence on issues regarding sexual health.
For example, I had a conversation on a lady’s experience the first time she got her menses. Her mother showed her a magazine reporting on the rising number of cervical cancer cases in the country in a bid to protect her from false information through threats. She then said: “My daughter now that you are a woman, keep away from boys if you do not want cervical cancer.”
That was the last time they ever spoke about sex. In her mother’s mind, a horror story on what might happen to her if she attempted to have sex was the most effective way to kill her curiosity about boys and sex. My friend managed to share her story and how it affected her mental health and relationships in her adulthood.
Secondly, age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education nurtures and explores positive attitudes and values on sexual reproductive health. It encourages people to respect human rights and gender equality. Moreover, it develops a young person’s self-esteem. AACSE empowers young people to control their behavior and in turn treat other people with respect and tolerance besides their gender, race or sexual orientation.
For instance, I find it sad that most Kenyans do not understand what age appropriate Comprehensive Sexuality Education (AACSE) is really all about, and are totally ignorant to the many benefits it could deliver to children and young people. Yet a number of individuals and organizations go as far as petitioning the government to remove CSE from school curricula.
Their biggest argument being that CSE encourages young people to engage in premarital sex when the safest option is to abstain. According to a report released by Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (2014 KDHSin 2014 11% of girls and 20% of boys aged between 15-19 years had their first sexual encounter by age 15, while 47% of girls and 57% of boys aged 20-24 had sex by age 18.
According to a recent report by JIACTIVATE, young people prefer to get information on age appropriate sexual reproductive health from social media, radio and television. This means therefore, that there is a need to provide information on AASRH from the sources that young people use as a strategic way to reach out to them. This will improve the uptake of medical services that exist and increase provision of youth friendly services.
Finally, AACSE encourages young people to acquire accurate information about sexual reproductive health and rights and information about human sexuality. Young people are also able to learn about contraceptives, family life and interpersonal relationships, human rights empowerment, equity and gender roles, sexual abuse among harmful practices in our society.
For some young people in Kenya, the reality is that most parents do not aim to educate but to scare them out of having sex. At home, most parents shy away from discussions about sex and continue to insist that total abstinence is the answer to all sexual and reproductive health issues. Having AASRH will eliminate such fixed mindsets and encourage discussions and knowledge sharing on the topic.
Unfortunately, another reality is that young people will still look for this information from any sources available.
However, this points out to two wrongful assumptions that advocates of abstinence make. First is the assumption that scary stories about sex can maintain virginities and second is the belief that AACSE is all about sex and thus encourages sex.
With reference to the first assumption, evidence continues to show that young people are being initiated into sex much earlier in their life whether or not they hear those scary stories. This is because sex is driven by hormonal activity and emotions which in many cases cannot be suppressed by mare daunting stories of death and diseases.
Further, Parents, the government, schools, and religious leaders should be at the forefront to ensure that knowledge, skills, and values on age-appropriate sexual reproductive health and rights are passed to children and young people as a way to protect the next generation from inaccurate information that may encourage mistakes and immoral behavior.