It is ironic that while a very large part of Sunnah is about matters relevant to sex, the subject cannot be discussed in a scientific context in our society. In a recent incident at Lahore Grammar school, a book has been banned by the Punjab government that contained a chapter on ‘human reproduction’ labeling it as obscene. “We have banned the book after receiving complaints from parents,” provincial education minister Rana Mashhood Ahmad informed. The science book had material that could provoke “sexual desire” mwhich could not be tolerated, he said. “We will not allow anyone to teach our children with material which is against our social values and religious beliefs,” Ahmad said. An inquiry was underway to ascertain why “objectionable” contents were included in the science book, he said.
Reproductive health education is about all the physical and psychological changes that take place as we grow up. Although all the information one needs is now available on the net, however, a very small segment of our population has access to internet. Also, the reliability of information and its accuracy is again highly questionable when children lack the ability to discern.
Experts are of the view that it is beneficial to discuss the subject in the classroom where all students are of the same age going through the same experiences. Thus, in the absence of sound knowledge about sex, curious adolescents commit mistakes. Teaching children about sex in the classroom would encourage them to view it as a natural, normal and healthy part of life. If youngsters learn about sex in a scientific and objective way, they would be more careful before indulging in sex secretly.
Egypt teaches knowledge about male and female reproductive systems, sexual organs, contraception and STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) in public schools in the second and third years of the middle-preparatory phase (when students are aged 12–14). A coordinated program between UNDP, UNICEF and the ministries of health and education promotes sexual education at a larger scale in rural areas and spreads awareness of the dangers of female genital mutilation.
“India has a strong prevention program which goes hand in hand with care, support and treatment. We have been able to contain the epidemic with a prevalence of just 0.31 %. We have also brought about a decline of 50% in new infections annually” Gulam Nabi Azad, Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare informed. In India, there are many programs promoting sex education including information on AIDS in schools as well public education and advertising. AIDS clinics providing information and assistance are to be found in most cities and many small villages.
On the other hand when in 2009, Dawood Public School for Girls, Karachi, introduced reproductive health education in a science text book that was included in its curriculum, the parents protested vehemently. But commenting on the incident, Naveed Zuberi, adviser to Education Minister, Pir Mazhar-ul-Haq, said that they would not allow any school to teach such courses, saying: “This is not USA or Europe, this is Pakistan and our culture does not allow us to teach these things at school”. There is no sex education in government schools and almost all private schools. At the informal level, most parents and teachers consider it a tabooed subject. Now, as the child grows older, he or she learns about the names of various organs of the body, however, the real names of genitals are deliberately avoided and some funny names are assigned to the sexual organs. As the child grows older, he or she is curious as to where he or she came from. In response, some ridiculous story is told to the child.
While day in and day out the media reports cases of child molestation and rape, our large majority from among the uneducated and the educated find it unpalatable to educate the young children as to how they can identify an act of molestation and sexual advances.
Child sexual abuse is probably one of the least acknowledged and least explored forms of sexual abuse in Pakistan. This situation may be a result of the taboo attached to this issue.
Not only in the developed part of the world, in many developing countries, children are sensitized to the male and female reproductive system, menstruation, the physical and emotional changes of adolescence, the growing up process, sexuality, Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and the avoidance of these infectious diseases by means of safe sex using condoms. Taboo subjects like masturbation are also touched upon.
While cases of sexual abuse of children are increasing, sex education can supply our young people the tools to report and resist abusive behaviors and provide them with a forum for expressing their fears openly. This will help forestall it. Awareness about the sexual process, pregnancy, and contraception helps young people avoid getting into unwanted situations.
In 2011, Psychiatrist Dr Mobin Akhtar, who had written a book titled “Sex education for Muslims” was accused of promoting pornography. Most bookstores refused to stock his book and he even received threats to his life. While majority of our people would oppose sex education of our children, nobody would be interested in the plight of a young female student who suddenly starts bleeding in her classroom and there was no forewarning by her mother. What about a boy of the same age who suddenly finds changes in his body and has nobody to ask about it or someone who masturbates and finds about the ‘calamities’ in a newspaper ad by some ‘jinsi shifakhana’ as to how this ‘heinous’ act ‘affects’ sexual health.
The upsurge of sexually transmitted diseases and their prevalence and complete lack of knowledge and understanding as to how to prevent these and abhorrence to birth control techniques has rendered us a high risk country. Attempts to replace the term sex education with reproductive health education have not succeeded.
Sex education is candidly discussed in many Muslim countries including Saudi Arabia; however, in our country people are shy of discussing it in public.It is vitally important for our country that parents and teachers do not adopt an ostrich-like approach and keep their eyes open, for in this information age, there is every possibility that the child will get the wrong information and fall into a gruesome trap set by quacks. Similarly, health workers, who have greater access to individual homes, can also play a very significant role in raising the awareness of the masses.