90pc of chil­dren think it is im­por­tant for sex­ual ed­u­ca­tion to be taught in schools

New Straits Times - - Opinion - MARRIANE CLARK HATTINGH The writer is the Unicef Rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Malaysia

“I DIDN’T know that you could get preg­nant by hav­ing sex” . These were the words of Sara, a 15-year-old girl in­ter­viewed by pop­u­lar ac­tress Lisa Suri­hani for a video on sex preda­tors. She found her­self preg­nant af­ter hav­ing sex with a man she had met on WeChat.

It is for chil­dren like Sara that we are mak­ing the call for sex­ual and re­pro­duc­tive health ed­u­ca­tion to be made manda­tory in schools. Without such an ed­u­ca­tion, chil­dren will get their in­for­ma­tion from other sources. Sadly, this in­cludes strangers they meet online.

In­ter­net-me­di­ated rape, teenage preg­nan­cies, baby dump­ing, early or forced mar­riage and higher risk of con­tract­ing sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted in­fec­tions can be at­trib­uted to the ab­sence of sex ed­u­ca­tion in schools and the re­luc­tance of many par­ents to dis­cuss sex and sex­u­al­ity with their teenage chil­dren.

On April 26, the Sex­ual Of­fences Against Chil­dren Bill passed into law. It is an im­por­tant piece of leg­is­la­tion that sends a clear mes­sage: chil­dren in Malaysia need to be better pro­tected against sex­ual vi­o­lence.

How­ever, this new law is just one part of the equa­tion and will not suf­fice to keep chil­dren safe. Chil­dren and young peo­ple need to be em­pow­ered with the knowl­edge and skills to iden­tify risks and pro­tect them­selves from un­wel­come sex­ual ad­vances or preg­nan­cies.

Last De­cem­ber, the Com­mit­tee on the Rights of the Child is­sued a Gen­eral Comment on the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the rights of the child dur­ing ado­les­cence for such an ed­u­ca­tion to be a manda­tory part of the school cur­ricu­lum. It de­tailed that the cur­ricu­lum needs to be age-ap­pro­pri­ate, com­pre­hen­sive and in­clu­sive. Its fo­cus should be on sex­ual and re­pro­duc­tive health, not just sex, but the en­tire gamut of what con­sti­tutes a re­la­tion­ship.

The United Na­tions Chil­dren’s Fund (Unicef) has been work­ing with other or­gan­i­sa­tions reach­ing out to chil­dren and ado­les­cents across Malaysia in town­halls to talk about what re­mains a taboo topic in most homes. The #SayaSayangSaya ini­tia­tive is based on the be­lief that any healthy re­la­tion­ship starts with lov­ing and re­spect­ing one­self first.

At these town halls, we talk about re­spect, mak­ing sure chil­dren are not pres­sured into do­ing things they are not com­fort­able with. We talk about safety, mak­ing sure chil­dren are emo­tion­ally and phys­i­cally safe in their re­la­tion­ships. We talk about ac­cep­tance, mak­ing sure our chil­dren do not com­pro­mise their be­liefs to gain friend­ships. This ed­u­ca­tion makes them re­sis­tant to so­cial pres­sures in­flicted by their peers or sex­ual preda­tors they may en­counter online.

When polled, more than 90 per cent of chil­dren at­tend­ing these town hall ses­sions thought it im­por­tant for sex­ual and re­pro­duc­tive ed­u­ca­tion to be taught in their schools. We can­not af­ford to leave our chil­dren’s knowl­edge or re­pro­duc­tive health and sex­u­al­ity up to chance.

So, the next time chil­dren hear the words “I’ll teach you about sex”, let’s be cer­tain that it comes from a trusted and trained ed­u­ca­tor or their par­ents them­selves.

Unicef, in part­ner­ship with DiGi, R.AGE and WOMEN: girls, is run­ning a se­ries of youth town­halls across the coun­try known as #SayaSayangSaya to raise aware­ness among young peo­ple about healthy teen re­la­tion­ships, teen online dat­ing and In­ter­ne­tre­lated sex­ual vi­o­lence.

The cam­paign hopes to reach 600 young peo­ple and an­other 20,000 peo­ple via dig­i­tal plat­forms. Sup­port­ing the youth town halls are the Fed­er­a­tion of Re­pro­duc­tive Health As­so­ci­a­tions, Malaysia and the Sex­ual, Women and Child In­ves­ti­ga­tion De­part­ment of the Royal Malaysian Po­lice known also as D11. #SayaSayangSaya town halls have been con­ducted in Tereng­ganu, Pa­hang, Sabah and Ke­lan­tan.

The next in­stal­ment will hap­pen in Kuching, Sarawak.

So, the next time chil­dren hear the words ‘I’ll teach you about sex’, let’s be cer­tain that it comes from a trusted and trained ed­u­ca­tor or their par­ents them­selves.


Par­tic­i­pants at a #SayaSayangSaya town hall ses­sion in Kuala Tereng­ganu in March.

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