the debate surrounding the distribution of literature and condoms outside
schools by the group Advocates for Youth Sexual and Reproductive Health
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
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
childrens 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 childs
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 childs 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
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 regions
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
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 nations 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
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 Georges 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
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
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.