Sex Education in India - Need of the Hour


Smitha Das
Research Associate
Icfai Business School

Sex education is one among the most important devices that facilitate people to wipe out both transmissible and non-transmissible diseases. It reduces the occurrence of several hazards but lack of it is one of the main crises currently being faced by our nation. This article makes clear the significance for introducing sex education in India, the need of it for teenagers and women. It also throws light on the role of government in putting the health education programs into practice. The article winds up by depicting the significance of sex education to lead a happy, safe and sound life.

Sex Education A Prologue

Awareness of sex is the most significant factor necessary to lead a secure life. Usual educational practices are very simple to learn, but we cannot consider sex education on the same line. It comprises of physiological, psychological and social issues, especially when we think of including it as a part of academic syllabus. As these complications occur, a question may arise in the mind of people about the need for sex education providing to the children. While children reach teenage level, lack of sex education may lead the way to their unusual behavior. If not corrected at the exact time, it may generate problems of immature misbehaviors in these children's life.

The term 'Sex Education', also known as sexuality education or sex and relationships education, is widely used to depict education about reproductive system, sexual interaction and other facets of human sexual behavior. It is the procedure of gaining knowledge and developing mind-set as well as ideas about sex, sexual identity, human relations, closeness, gender roles, contraception methods and prevention of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)1 and Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD)2. It is also an effective way to respect one's partner, wife, husband and also a means to admire sexual preferences. The misinterpretation of the people that are generally kept under the wraps should be cleared and they should be convinced about the need for sex education in this rapidly changing era. It is important that youth should be familiar with the purpose of providing education in order to develop an open and healthy approach towards sex and sexuality in order to assist them to make well-thought judgments.

What is the Need for Sex Education?

Sex education is intended to decrease the hazards of negative results from sexual behavior such as unwanted or unplanned pregnancies and infection through sexually transmitted diseases. It also enhances the value of relations and increases teenager's capability to take apt decisions relating to their relation with people of the opposite gender. The general objective of sex education is to eradicate the lack of knowledge and wrong ideas about sex by creating right attitude among the adolescents. Commonly, schools and colleges are considered as the main hub for creating awareness on sex education. A study that was conducted to analyze the behavioral patterns of the adolescents in India (among 6 states) revealed that the teens lacked a complete knowledge of HIV/AIDS. As per the survey, in Maharashtra, only 12.4% Unmarried Male (UM) and 30.7% Unmarried Female (UF) have obtained complete knowledge about family life and sex. Bihar and Jharkhand were the most awful states since the awareness of sex was at a lower level of 8.6% Unmarried Males and 7.2 % Unmarried Females. A research conducted to collect data regarding the sex education level of the rural and urban people disclosed that the educated young people residing in town areas were somewhat better than those residing in village areas. Professionals argue that frankness in talk would reduce dissatisfactions and violence related to sexuality among youth. Ram Chandra Purbey, the former primary education minister of Bihar said, "Our society is not an open one. Inclusion of sex education in the syllabus can also have an adverse effect". This declaration evidently shows the approach of government towards the issue of sex education. There is no consent in Indian society over introducing sex and reproductive health education in the curriculum of schools and colleges. The truth is that a big population of about 300 million youth is in the age group of 12-24, and researches are revealing their mounting preference for pre-marital sex.

In a survey (2002) conducted by The Week magazine about unmarried young Indians, 69% of men admitted that they had pre-marital sex while compared to 38% of women. In 16-19 age group 45% had pre-marital sex and at the same time, 27% were 15 years or below and 28% of the participants were 20 years or elder. The survey findings disclose an enduring dissent in government-speak about the truth in the society. Central and state governments are taking a straitlaced position in this matter and have refused to realize the extent of the dilemma. Unawareness of sex can be a disconcerting issue and at times tedious mix for youth and other individuals living under disgusting social insistence. In the middle of all this, NGOs have been trying to make and give out their own handbooks to explain what they see lacking in the school curriculum on sex education, but their attempts have ended up in conflict3. "We have seen that the problem is secular in nature but it exists everywhere. The details change, such as in slums the children are easily available, whereas in flats the space is available. People do not talk about it though they may seek help. It is absolutely wrong to categorically ban sex education. These instances of abuse are not reported. There is no environment where the children can speak freely about sexual instances. There needs to be healthy communication," says Vidya Apte, founder member of the Forum against Child Sexual Exploitation (FACSE)4. "Boys do not come out in the open and report instances of sexual abuse. Even our studies on sexual abuse of girls in Mumbai have shown that most of the offenders were known to the victim, be it the neighbors, family friends and cousins," said Trupti Panchal, in charge of the special cell for women and children at the Mumbai based Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS)5.

Child Abuse and Sex Education

Sex education closely addresses the problems of abuse faced by many children. They are not only exploited outside home, but also their own relatives, friends and acquaintances happen to be the culprits. In spite of the importance of this problem, diverse phases of child exploitation are never discussed within the educational scheme and this confidentiality has to be stopped for the sake of protection and safety of the children. There is a lack of knowledge on this facet and it directs to the lack of responsibility of grown-ups towards a child's security and care in this circumstance. Keeping silence on sexual abuse of children does not mean that every thing is all right with them. The teachers or instructors need to liberally discuss about sexual exploitation; pay attention to the victims, trust them and identify their grievances. They should be given more care during the phases of physical, behavioral and emotional alterations. Psychologists also stress on the need for discussion with children regarding sexual exploitation and they insist that the educational scheme should inform its children when an abuse has been prevented in their premises. Briefly, a grown up person is intended to correct the information, which was incorrectly perceived by them or hidden from them by the current system. Now-a-days, more and more youngsters wish to know the real fact and associated information on sex education.

As a part of the study (1997), the Delhi-based Sakshi Violation Intervention Centre interviewed 350 school children and found that 63% of the girl respondents had been physically abused by their relatives; 25%were raped and more than 30% had been sexually exploited by their father, grandfather or a male family friend. A study (1999) conducted by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences disclosed that 58 out of 150 girls interviewed had been raped before the age of 10. Recovering and Healing from Incest (RAHI), a Delhi-based foundation that offers support to victims of sexual exploitation, states that out of 1,000 higher and upper-middle class college students interviewed, 76% had been physically abused during childhood, 31% were assaulted by persons familiar to the family and 40% by relative and 50% before the age of 12. This is nothing strange; most of the educated nations utilize the educational method as a vital means to enlighten children about sexual abuse or offense against a minor and about diverse victim support organizations. Perhaps, it is infantile to think that sensitive matters like incest would be dealt with in a particular set-up, which does not even believe in offering sex education in schools. There is a lack of awareness system, where the grown ups' responsibility towards a child fails in the gravest mode.

Sex Education for Women

In the Indian context, sex education for women is vital. When a child becomes a teenager and a mother, she requires the knowledge to opt the correct choices and protective measures for her healthiness and family wellbeing. Sex education is a knowledge weapon for women that help to easily tackle the sex-associated dangers and defend from cunning family members and society. It provides the necessary knowledge on gender relationship in schools, colleges as well as society and throws light on different health as well as emotional problems.

Sex Education and AIDS

Dr. Balaji, adviser of the National Council of Education Research and Training (NCERT)6 says, "Too many people think that neither sex education nor AIDS education is compatible with their notion of Indian culture." India has the second largest population in the world with over 2 million people infected by HIV/AIDS and it is the second major hub of AIDS after South Africa. Although, some of the state governments have taken a stand against sex education, they are still not conscious about the risk faced by the upcoming generations. They hesitate to intrepidly put into practice the optimistic policy decision on sex education. The Indian government has taken diverse steps to check the spread of HIV/AIDS disease with short-range and enduring plans. Government had set-up the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), as a part of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, which plays the vital task of a leader in the HIV/AIDS control programme7. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)8 provided funds of Rs.42.30 crore and Rs.55.20 crore during 2005-06 and 2006-07 for more than 40,000 schools. The occurrence of HIV/AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases in India insists that the schools and colleges must pay more attention to provide sexual and AIDS/HIV knowledge to their children and teach them on life skills solutions to achievable situations in daily life, through interactive means.

Role of Indian Government in Sex Education

The Central Government has taken various initiatives to control population and restrain the HIV infection through sex education and life skill programs. NCERT developed an Adolescence Education Programme (AEP)9, which was primarily used as an introduction to sex education, since 1993. The task was repeated in the National Curriculum Framework (NCF) 2005, which stated that its key objective was to support youth to deal with their reproductive and sexual health concerns. The Union Government had trouble in attaining national accord on sex education since secondary education was a state related subject matter. Majority of the State Governments were unwilling to set up sex education in their curriculum and some of the states such as Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra which introduced it, barred it later on. The Committee on Petitions, which was chaired by Venkaiah Naidu M.P, intermingled with social groups to find out the best method to pass on adolescent education programme in CBSE allied educational institutions. The chairperson of the committee said "The purpose is to elicit the views of teachers, management, students, and also the general public. We as a committee cannot express our views because the committee is made by the Parliament only to collect views under study and to make a recommendation to Parliament. Then Parliament will discuss it and the government will formulate the future programme." The committee had decided to take on wider discussions with the full segment of people including well-known educationists, sociologists, sexologists, psychologists, religious leaders, trainers and parents for creating a national debate on the topic. The Indian society is made up of diverse culture and practices; hence the government must develop a widespread plan on sex education and take up a policy to address this issue.

Debates on Sex Education in India

In India, one of the most-debated matters is whether sex education is essential or not. But people have to bear in mind that the lack of knowledge among the teenagers (mostly the youth of 16 to 19 years age group) and their participation in sex in a primitive mode, considering it as an act without any accountability, has spoiled their life badly. The outcome was some off-putting incidents such as unwanted pregnancies, abortions, sexually transmitted diseases, AIDS, psychological pressures, strain, agony, negligence from families, loss of social respect and absolute failure in the studies. The decision taken by the government and non-governmental organizations to provide sex education created a sensation in the nation. The parents were separated in different opinions supporting and opposing sex education. One group of people argued that there is no place for sex education in Indian customs as well as traditions and our cultural values are good enough. Some believe that the sex education may distort the psyche of kids and also consider that AIDS is a different problem and sex is dissimilar. Hence, they argue that there is no necessity for sex education in schools and that it is a normal procedure that can be learnt through personal experiences. But specialists stress that parents must realize their children's problems during their growing stage. Parents should begin sex education from sanitation education and liberally talk about their youth issues and prepare the growing teenagers to handle these problems efficiently and protect themselves through sex education. "Sex education does not mean you are encouraging sex which is how it's interpreted. It is an insurance for your child. It will protect your child." says Renuka Chowdhury, Minister of State for Women and Child Development. Educators mention that the human anatomy and reproductive systems were already being taught at the school stages. In addition to this, sex education provides knowledge to youngsters in order to release themselves from sexual coercion and will assist them to find answers within the structure of present society.

Sex Education It's High Time to be Open!

In India, instead of being open about sex related issues, most of the people would prefer younger generation not to be familiar with these matters. We were told not to discuss these topics in school and even at home. So far as girls are concerned, the custom in our country is to keep them vigilant through warnings such as "Be alert", "See how you're sitting", "Is this the way to walk?", "Behave yourself ", "Cover up yourself", "Don't be so shameless"- this list will be never-ending! By being warned, girls are supposed to gain knowledge on how to protect them without even knowing how or from what. As an outcome, they grow by being embarrassed, perplexed, uneducated about themselves as well as their bodies and are also rendered far more defenseless. In this era of the knowledge economy and globalization, we cannot think that public access to information on any topic, including topics relating to sex, can be prohibited.  Earlier generations of women and men did not have such awareness, so why does this age group need to be educated about these issues? The reply to that question is so clear that it actually does not require an answer. Nowadays, girls have to be educated since they are more exposed to the outside world than their mothers. They are motivated to be out in the public places, even abroad. They are made to believe that they can do whatever thing they desire with their lives. Still they are unaware how to save them from abuses. These are the critical issues that youth can be educated in a clear and scientific manner from their schools. It is a truth of life that everybody has the right to know and be aware of. Would it not be better to educate adolescents about these matters in an environment that supports them to raise questions and to clarify their doubts? How can such awareness be treated as obscene or against Indian values and traditions'?11

Three million people in India are suffering from AIDS and the majority of them are 20-30 years old.  This shocking fact not only worry the people with the problem of saving them from the difficulties of AIDS, but also demands others with the extra problem of preventing the spread of this disease to the other parts of the society. Due to these drastic situations, government has to initiate awareness programs in the correct way, such as spreading knowledge about sex and HIV/AIDS, its communal impact etc. Always remember that "Prevention is better than cure!" The right nature and objective of sex education should be communicated to all groups of people in order that the advantages of sex education reach everyone. It would be apt to quote the wordings of Rajendra Barve, renowned psychiatrist, "Sex education should be about carrying out duties of an adult, not just sexuality." The legendary land of Kama Sutra12, where structural design in temples adores sexual acts, is now in the control of unawareness about sex. This lack of understanding should be removed through precise knowledge on sex education to make life better and meaningful!13

1. A lentivirus that can lead to AIDS
2. An illness that has a significant probability of transmission by means of sexual contact
4. A network of individuals, professionals and organizations working to eliminate sexual exploitation and abuse of children
5. Mumbai Newsline, April 2007
6. Provides advice and support for the improvement of school education
7. From the minutes of an International Inter-ministerial Meeting on Combating HIV/AIDS held  in November 2004
8. An international development agency that promotes the right of every woman, man and child to enjoy a life of health and equal opportunity
9. A joint initiative by Ministry of Human Resource Development and National AIDS Control Organisation, Govt. of India to equip every adolescent with scientific information, knowledge and life-skills to protect themselves from HIV infection and manage their concerns pertaining to reproductive and sexual health
10. Consists of 15 members nominated by the Speaker
12. An ancient Indian text widely considered to be the standard work on human sexual behavior in Sanskrit literature written by the Indian scholar Vatsyayana

Smitha Das
Research Associate
Icfai Business School

Source: E-mail February 9, 2009


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