Wednesday 4th June 2003

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Youths need to know sex facts

We join the debate surrounding the distribution of literature and condoms outside schools by the group Advocates for Youth Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (AYSHR).

In our humble opinion, those weighing in with their opinion may have overlooked many of the facts surrounding this initiative.

Fact 1: The group did not solely distribute condoms as many believe, but in fact gave out, to those students willing to be informed, a package that included the following: literature on how to prevent the contraction of sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS; literature that promoted abstinence from sex as one method employed to protect oneself from STDS, unplanned pregnancies, etc; and prophylactics as one of the mechanisms available to sexually active youth to reduce their risk of infection.

Fact 2: It is not illegal, as some have suggested, to speak with students outside a school compound on any subject matter; whereas it is a violation of the law to sell/distribute illegal drugs within a specified distance from any institute of education.

Fact 3: T&T is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which contains several articles that have direct bearing on the interaction between AYSHR and students. Article 15 recognises children’s right to freedom of association.

Article 12 gives them the right “to express views freely in all matters affecting the child”, with Article 13 ensuring the child’s “right to freedom of expression – including freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print”.

Article 17 recognises the right of children “to access information and material from a diversity of national and international sources, especially those aimed at the promotion of his or her social, spiritual, and moral well-being and physical and mental health.”

Finally, Article 28 states the child’s right to education, and to “encourage the development of different forms of secondary education, (making) general and vocational education and guidance available and accessible to all children.”

Fact 4: There is a pressing need to reduce the risk of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases amongst the age group 15-24 as numerous statistical studies reflect, including studies undertaken before (1996), during and after the development of a regional initiative entitled Health and Family Life Education.

Fact 5: All Caricom member States have recognised that “changing societal and family values and traditions, disintegrated community life and unsatisfactory educational approaches have contributed to the development of young people who are poorly equipped to cope with the stresses of everyday life.

Thus, the teaching of life skills has become a necessity and not an option for Caribbean classrooms. The Caricom multi-agency Health and Family Life Education Project (HFLE), established as a direct consequence of the desire of Caribbean governments to protect the region’s youth, meets this need by developing curricula with cross-cutting themes that focus on the development on the whole child (emotional, social, mental and physical) and seeks to empower young people with skills for healthy living.”

Fact 6: The Government was extremely tardy in adopting HFLE as a tool to reduce the risk of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases in the nation’s schools, preferring instead to adopt a programme entitled “Moral and Spiritual Values Education” in 1999-2000 as a mechanism to appease the IRO and other interest groups who objected to the teaching of “sex education” in schools.

Consequently, our Cabinet belatedly approved HFLE in 2001, which is still to be implemented on the scale anticipated, unlike many of its regional counterparts.

This truth is self-evident, given the full-page publication of an article in the newspapers by the Ministry of Education on HFLE, “Empowering young people with skills for healthy living”.

Fact 7: As far back as 2000, at the Youth Assembly of Caribbean Community Parliamentarians held at St George’s University, Grenada, delegates urged regional governments to “address the issue of sexual attitudes and behaviours among children and young people through comprehensive programmes on reproductive health care” .. (and) noted with concern a wide range of issues such as the reducing age of initiation for sexual encounters, teen pregnancy, increased incidence of incest and sexual abuse, spread of HIV/AIDS, peer pressure for sex and drugs, a breakdown in family relationships, the lack of support systems for working mothers, the emergence of the Internet and television as socialising agents, the gaps in life skills, nutritional deficiencies and chronic diseases in young people.

The implications for personal, economic, cultural and social development were also noted. They also noted “the slow pace of governments to implement regional plans of action on AIDS, health and family life education – and concluded that strategies must be identified to empower parents, youth, NGOs and other stakeholders to take responsible action at the local and community levels.”

They also urged governments to “teach HFLE as a compulsory subject in primary and secondary schools.”

The T&T representative at that assembly, Tristan Chapman, seconded resolution 3 from which these quotes were taken.

Fact 8: It is the lack of response to the challenges facing youth, in particular those related to reproductive health, sexuality and HIV/AIDS, that prompted AYSHR to take what some see as the drastic measure to inform, educate and guide our youth in life skills.

Fact 9: Regardless of our individual opinion on the initiative undertaken, the outcome has been positive.

The issue has become prominent news: prompting healthy debate and forcing parents, educators, civil society and our leaders, from the editorial pages of every daily newspaper and even the Prime Minister, to express their views on this matter.

This can only bode well for our society, and serve to hasten the implementation of mechanisms by the State and other bodies in civil society designed to address the lack of psychosocial competence in youth as it relates to life skills, primarily the development of responsible attitudes towards human sexuality, reproductive health and managing interpersonal relationships.

It may, and hopefully will, result in a holistic approach to educating our youth.

Early initiation in sexual intercourse, which is now widespread, has put our youth at risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS, having unplanned and unwanted pregnancies and made them vulnerable to sexual abuse and often undue sexual peer pressure.

Parents do have rights, and they can and must instruct their children as they see fit on human sexuality and reproduction, but parents and their elected State representatives should entrust the school boards with the authority and the tools to supplement academic instruction with informed, health-based programmes and services, including condom awareness programmes.

The principal message teens/ youth should receive is that their continued health and safety is key.

Courtesy the T&T Coalition on the Rights of the Child.

©2003-2004 Trinidad Publishing Company Limited

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