Sex education in Kenya is an emotive issue. Sex education is instruction on issues relating to human sexuality. It includes emotional relations and responsibilities, human sexual anatomy and sexual activity.
Sex education also includes sexual reproduction, the age of consent, reproductive health, reproductive rights, safe sex, birth control, and sexual abstinence. (Wikipedia)
In February 2015, President Uhuru Kenyatta launched a new global campaign. The campaign was to scale up the war against HIV/AIDS in a bid to reduce the rising incidences of HIV/AIDS among teenagers. The campaign known as the ‘All in the Campaign to end Adolescents AIDS’ came at the most opportune time.
Shocking statistics at the time showed HIV/AIDS in the African continent infected teenagers at an alarming rate. HIV is was the leading cause of death among adolescents in Africa.
Some sections of the mainstream media, blogging, and social media ridiculed the campaign. They labelled the campaign as ‘Condoms for Kids’.
The campaign brought intense controversy. In the previous year (2014), Nominated Senator Judith Achieng Sijeny introduced the Reproductive Healthcare Bill 2014. The Bill also brought intense controversy when the Senate began to discuss it. Detractors claimed the bill intended to provide condoms for kids.
The public backlash on the government for promoting sex education
The campaign to address adolescent aids did not augur well with many conservative Kenyans. They went ahead to attack the government. Many of them claimed that the government wanted to provide condoms for school going children. They said the move went against their individual and society’s morality, culture and religion.
The ridicule did not stop there. Others asked why the government intended to provide children with condoms other than laptops. The laptops for kids were part of the Jubilee government manifesto pledges in the run-up to the 2013 general elections. The government had diverted the money for the laptops at the time to supplement the budget for other sectors.
I had an argument with one of the conservative people on the campaign. He said that he would sponsor a movement in the grassroots to oppose the campaign. Anyone would expect the people at the grassroots to obviously oppose the campaign because of misinformation. They would not understand the benefits of such a campaign and its implications for the adolescent’s welfare.
The media drove conversations on the campaign in the wrong direction. The conversations unfavourably leaned towards conservatism, whether religious, societal, or cultural. Not many people discussed the actual intentions of the campaign. The same applied to the Reproductive Health Care Bill 2014.
The intentions of the campaign went beyond people’s selfish ego. The campaign proved that many Kenyans consider sex education in Kenya with a frown. Yet, the government was trying to address matters where they (the conservative Kenyans) had failed.
Sex education in Kenya is a taboo among many people
Sex education in Kenya is taboo in many communities. Parents are embarrassed to open up about sex with their children. Many communities reserve sex education for the initiation period. Yet, sex education in Kenya is something that should start earlier and progress with the age of the child.
The Kenyan Constitution recognizes a child as anyone below the age of eighteen.
There is some form of sex education in many of our schools’ curriculum despite the issue remaining widely controversial. Some of the issues that draw controversy about sex education include-
- Age at which children should start receiving sex education;
- The number of details to reveal to the children; and
- Topics that relate to human sexuality and behaviour (e.g. safe sex practices, masturbation, and sexual ethics).
One of the major controversial points is whether covering child sexuality is valuable or detrimental. Another point is on the use of birth control such as condoms and oral contraceptives. Lastly, there is the impact of such use on pregnancy outside marriage, teenage pregnancy, and the transmission of STDs.
Religion is one of the leading causes of opposition to sex education in Kenya for children (including adolescents). Conservative religious groups increasingly support and encourage abstinence. Yet, Kenya has a high incidence of STDs and teenage pregnancy.
The more conservative our country becomes, the higher the prevalence of HIV/AIDS, STDs and teenage pregnancy. Already, alarming statistics show that half a million abortions happen in Kenya every year. The (unsafe) abortions mostly affect teenage girls.
Why sex education in Kenya is important
The obvious reason many people know is that teenagers are having sex. Abstinence, in itself alone, is no longer an effective way of delaying sex. In fact, abstinence among teenagers nowadays receives mixed feelings.
Children are no longer waiting until they become adults (or marriage) to have sex. Experimentation and changing trends have changed the perspective of teenagers about sex and sexuality.
Sex education and sexual responsibility
Sex education in Kenya would increase the level of sexual responsibility among adolescents. They will gain essential knowledge that will benefit them all the way to adulthood.
Currently, because of the lack of sex education, many teenagers and young adults lack information. The myths and misconceptions about sex prevail among them. That is why many of them live a risky lifestyle due to misinformation about sex.
One young person told us sex education matters because “without it, we’d still be giggling uncomfortably whenever anything to do with sex is mentioned” (The Guardian)
Adolescents will still learn about sex regardless. Many adolescents today learn about sex from the media and friends than from parents and school. This puts them more at risk because the media, friends, or the internet will largely exaggerate sex and provide inaccurate information.
If sex education in Kenya becomes compulsory through approved and thoroughly trained educators, then we reduce the chances of risky sexual behaviour among our children.
Sex education and reduced teenage pregnancies and STIs
Sex education also leads to reduced instances of HIV/AIDS, STIs and teenage pregnancies. After sex education, adolescents learn how to make informed decisions. The decisions lead to healthy reproductive lives for the adolescents. In the process, they can keep themselves safe.
Sex education in the definition includes emotional relations and responsibilities. Therefore, teaching sex education in Kenya will improve relationships among adolescents all the way to adulthood.
Sexuality education is not just about sexual activity but also about developing meaningful relationships.
Sex education in Kenya should be mandatory in schools
Sex education in Kenya should take place both at home and in school. There is a need for parents to be confident and step up to educate their children about sexuality. At the same time, sex education should be mandatory for children in (primary) school all the way up.
For secondary schools, sex education matters. This is the period when young people become aware of their sexuality. They face new pressure from their peers and crave for more independence. They want to have a say on love, romance and what is favourable or unfavourable for them.
The era of the internet and pornography is shaping up young people’s understanding of sexuality in the wrong way. That is why trained educators on sexuality and sex education are indispensable. We need more of them in our schools.
Sex education should be mandatory, comprehensive, medically accurate, and taught throughout student’s school years, just like math. (stayteen.org)
Policymakers should also step up and take up the mantle. Did the revision to the school curriculum consider the impact of sex education in Kenya?
On this topic, we need stronger ethical, humanistic and secular laws that bring on board all stakeholders without undue influence from religious or other forms of conservatism. The curriculum managers should consider sex education a crucial essence of children’s life.
Teaching sex education in Kenya will be effective in the end
Children and adolescents who benefit from sex education have sex later than those who do not. Sex education discourages adolescents from having sex rather than encouraging them to do so.
According to The Telegraph, effective sex and relationship education would ideally achieve four things. It would:
- put sex into a healthy context as an enjoyable and safe activity;
- clearly let young people know that there should never be any pressure to have sex under any circumstances;
- free them of the notion they needed ever to film or photograph themselves sexually and share the images online with others; and
- coherently explain the new pressures that technology brings to this area of life.
In Holland, children learn about relationships from as young as four years old. The results are impeccable. Holland has one of the lowest teenage pregnancy, abortion, and STDs rates in Europe.
Therefore, what we need is a consensus among teachers, parents, policymakers and all other stakeholders. The consensus should aim to promote sex education in schools. We should treat sex education in Kenya as a human right. Every child should have the right to information about human sexuality.
Yet, increased rates of HIV/AIDS, STDs and abortions continue to inflict on our children. We will continue failing them if we continuously bottle it up. From where we stand, we have failed our children by denying them comprehensive and accurate sex education. That is why misinformation from the media, peers, and the internet (porn) is increasingly taking over.
We need to do something before it is too late…