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Monday, August 29, 2016

Sex education in Uganda schools was a bad move?

By Esther Nakkazi

It was at the celebrations of the 2016 World population day held in Isingiro district that I first heard President Yoweri Museveni talk about the unessential need for Uganda to have sex education in schools.

The theme was ‘invest in teen girls’ and in his speech, Museveni juxtaposed high teenage pregnancy with teaching sex education in schools.

“I want to discuss with all stakeholders about sex education in schools. There is a time for everything,” he said meaning he actually wanted to fix what he started.

Sex education started being taught in primary and secondary schools in 2001 when Uganda was preaching abstinence-only. It was an official program of President Museveni under the Presidential Initiative on AIDS Strategy for Communication to Youth (PIASCY).

PIASCY was funded by the US lead government agency USAID and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It was later bounced to the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). 

The aim of PIASCY was to empower young people to delay their sexual relations until marriage through abstinence. Thus, materials of instruction were made and distributed in primary and secondary schools and at youth rallies.

For kids aged 5-12 years the message was mainly abstinence and its benefits and as they grew older the subsequent message was correct condom application and uses. For kids 13-18 years it was upgraded to also include age sensitive subjects like masturbation, abortion, homosexuality but there was also some misleading and inaccurate information on condoms and HIV prevention.

Fifteen years down the line, after pumping kids with comprehensive sex education in schools, this is the scenario.

Uganda teen pregnancy incidence rates are sky high compared to its neighbors, HIV rates among adolescents are growing, teens spend happy moments exchanging porn and according to Parliamentarians the God-fearing Nation- read Uganda- is getting ‘more gay’.

Of course, there are positive contributions that sex education has made to Uganda's teens but the policymakers are adamant about them. All that is cited are these bad stats.

Latest stats from United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) say 140 per 1,000 teenage girls get pregnant annually in Uganda compared to 41, 101 and 128 in Rwanda, Kenya, and Tanzania respectively.

The Ministry of Health reports that 25 percent of Uganda teenagers become pregnant by 19 years and face four times the risk of maternal death compared to women older than 20 years plus their rates of neonatal death are about 50% higher.

According to the 2011 Uganda Demographic Health Survey (UDHS), many of the pregnancies in female adolescents aged 15-19 years are neither desired nor planned and those who had a child five years prior to the survey did not want to have it at that time.

Abortion is illegal in Uganda except under exceptional circumstances that include saving the life of the woman or preserving her physical and mental health. Studies show unplanned pregnancies in adolescents coupled with high teen pregnancy rates contribute to the high incidence of abortion and its related deaths.

A study was done at the national referral hospital, Mulago, showed that almost 50% of the women who died from abortion complications were adolescents. But these also tend to seek an abortion later than others and are more likely to use unskilled providers.

In mid-August, a month after President Museveni who signed onto this program complained, the Uganda parliament debated the motion to withdraw sex education in schools.

Lucy Akello, a Member of Parliament, Amuru district moved a motion, which appreciated that ‘comprehensive sexuality education lacks defined approaches to guide children at their tender age and to uphold Uganda with its morals, virtues of an Africa setting and a God fearing Nation.

It was agreed that the ministry of education halts dissemination of comprehensive sexuality education training materials and conduct of such programs in any schools in Uganda until a policy has been laid out in Parliament. 

Also, the National Curriculum Development Center in conjunction with relevant stakeholders would develop a comprehensive sexuality education curriculum in line with Uganda’s cultural values and practices.

During the debate, every member who spoke supported the motion. They blamed sex education in schools for the widespread 'immorality' inclusive but not limited to early sex, abortions, homosexuality and teen disobedience.

Of course, there should be other things to blame like the increasing exposure to porn and ‘raw and uncensored material’ on the Internet but in the meantime according to our legislators adopting this motion will fix everything.

Here is another scenario from a highly educated Ugandan.

So last year, I was attending the Makerere University Walter Reed Project (MUWRP) stakeholders meeting in Kampala thematized ‘Mitigating disease threats of Public Health Importance: 13 years of MUWRP in Uganda’.

Prof Vinand Nantulya, the Chairman of the Uganda Aids Commission (UAC) was the key speaker. He juxtaposed Uganda’s HIV new infections increase to the vulnerability of young women who are increasingly getting lured into sexual activities. He said it is worse.

UNAIDS estimates that 380 new HIV infections occur in Uganda making it the third leading contributor of new HIV infections in Africa after Nigeria and South Africa.

Prof Nantulya said one of the ways this would be fixed was to have more education about HIV in schools, which is also part of the comprehensive sexuality education package. He said more funds needed to be provided for PIASCY.

“PIASCY, which was good and helpful to educate the youth is not as good as it used to be. I want PIASCY back,” he said.

So its either that Uganda children and adolescents do not need sex education at all or that the PIASCY project got it wrong. Whatever it is we are not going back to the era when Uganda’s children got sex education from their grandparents, parents or relatives as Museveni suggested. No one has that time anymore. It is easier done in schools with the right messages and at an appropriate age. So since it cannot just be blown away, fix it.

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