Is comprehensive sexuality education a war on children?

FROM LEFT: Chairperson of the National Aids Control Council Rosemary Mbogo, Izaq Odongo, Senior Deputy Director, Ministry of Medical Services and Chairman of County Executive for Health Forum, Mulwa Andrew, during the launch of Health Report on HIV and Aids last month. [Photo: BEVERLYNE MUSILI/STANDARD]

Caro cuddles her two-month-old baby as she ponders what the future holds for her and the little one. A resident of Kisumu’s Otonglo area, Caro was a form two student last year at a school not far from her home. During the long December holidays, she had a short fling with a schoolboy from a boarding school. Before long, she realised she was pregnant.

“At first, I thought of getting rid of the baby before my parents could know but I did not not know where to do it. Soon, my mum got to know what was going on and I had no choice but to carry the pregnancy to term,” says Caro, 16.

Caro’s predicament will most likely befall other schoolgirls this holiday. It is because of such scenarios that some people have argued for the need to introduce comprehensive sexuality education (CSE).

Teenage pregnancy in Kenya continues to be a major cause for concern. The Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2014 notes: “Teenage childbearing varies widely by county, from a low of six per cent in Murang’a to a high of 40 per cent in Narok.”

Statistics further show that young women with no education begin child-bearing earlier than their counterparts with secondary or higher education. But what is the place of CSE and is it the solution?

Is there a need to teach children about sexuality from an early age? Those supporting CSE argue that children need to be aware of themselves and their surroundings as they grow up to prevent problems related to sexuality and reproductive health. The opponents say that sexuality education is only worsening an already bad situation.

The major opponents of CSE include the Roman Catholic Church. Albert Obbuyi, the executive director of the Centre for the Study of Adolescence (CSA), says that people have not taken time to understand what CSE is all about, what it entails and its impact.

He argues that adolescents being a significant portion of the Kenyan population, there is is a need to invest in them.

“To address challenges of teenage pregnancies, HIV and Aids, early marriages and sexual violence, we must invest in comprehensive sexuality education because we cannot solve the problems of today using solutions of yesterday, which are clearly not functional,” says Obbuyi.

Responding to accusations mainly from religious groups that CSE is promoting sexual misbehaviour among young people, Obbuyi says the material that is used is correct, factual, age-appropriate and culturally-sensitive and has been shown by research to lead to delay in sexual debut.

“With CSE, cases of sexual violence, unsafe abortions, early marriages and sexual debut can be reduced and this will further help in retaining girls in school,” he says.

Over a year ago, a CSE programme run by CSA stopped in Kisumu West Sub-County.

It is said that cases of teenage pregnancy have shot up in what proponents of CSE say is lack of knowledge on sexuality among youngsters.

CSE has been a major talking point, with opponents seeking to have Kenya ban it just like President Yoweri Museveni did in Uganda. President Museveni also ordered all training materials to be recalled.

Obbuyi argues that there has been a lot of misinformation on CSE.

He says children need to understand their bodies, their environment, gender, issues around their sexuality and how to handle sexual violence – “and if it is done well and involves every actor, it is the best solution”.

“Ask yourself why, according to the latest National Aids Control Council (NACC) report, HIV infections are dropping across all other ages except teenage. It is not because of mother-to-child transmission but sexual intercourse,” says Obbuyi.

The latest report showed that HIV cases among adolescents is increasing and the infections were happening within the same age group.

According to the Demographic and Health Information System (DHIS) 2016, Kisumu West has the highest number of pregnancies of girls aged between 15 and 19 years in Kisumu County.

Twenty-three per cent of girls this age were pregnant in Kisumu West Sub-county. Nyando followed with 22 per cent; Seme 20 per cent; Nyakach 19 per cent; Muhoroni 15 per cent and Kisumu East nine per cent.

Kisumu West Sub-County education officer Charles Kamaguna, however, was very guarded on the issue of CSE in schools.

“With good background and training, these issues should come naturally but should not be taught in school,” he says.

Kamuguna instead points an accusing finger at parents for failing in their duty to teach children about their sexuality. He says that in the past, parents would use riddles and stories to teach children about sex matters.

“Truth is, teenage pregnancy is a problem and last year one of our schools here had a large number of girls pregnant at the same time and this was very alarming,” he says, adding that the cases have reduced.

The World Congress of Families argues that CSE is a “war on children” by the United Nations and its agencies and must not be allowed on children.

A while back, the Catholic Church in Kenya raised the red flag over the tetanus vaccine which it said was laced with birth control elements. Health Cabinet secretary Dr Cleopa Mailu, however, says that there is no cause for alarm on issues of reproductive health.

“The government is the number one custodian of its citizens and cannot allow anything harmful to the public,” says Dr Mailu, dismissing those arguing that the government is abetting birth control.

But Ann Kioko, president of the African Organisation of Families, argues that CSE is a war on children because it is encouraging immorality. “It teaches young people to start identifying their sexual orientation as early as five years; and they are also taught issues like the use of condoms, contraception, masturbation, homosexuality and sex as a tool for pleasure,” says Kioko.

Kioko blames UN agencies like the United Nations Development Programme, UNFPA and World Health Organisation for pushing the CSE agenda. She says that the agenda is also being pushed through the International Planned Parenthood Federation.

“Sex education can be taught without necessarily being extreme and that was being done through life skills as a curriculum subject but teachers stopped and instead are going for CSE, which is wreaking havoc,” she says.

Kioko says that 51 schools were piloted for the CSE, which means the Ministry of Education is being used in the war against children.

“Chastity and responsibility are some of the issues that we need to focus on when teaching our children and we can inculcate values in our children at an early age,” says Kioko.

She says children cannot be taught that sex is alright at an early age but proponents of CSE argue that it is not about sex and that for there to be such education, it means their is a problem and someone has failed in their responsibility.

Obbuyi says that if the Church was doing its work, then there would be no cases of teenage pregnancies and extra-marital affairs among other sexual vices.