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Editorial of the Day: India needs comprehensive sexuality education (The Hindu)

Context: The article is discussing the issue of child abuse, particularly sexual abuse, and the importance of implementing comprehensive sexuality education as a preventive measure. The article references statistics from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) about the number of reported cases under The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act in 2021. The article emphasizes the importance of understanding sexual consent, not only as a way to recognize violation and abuse but also to foster healthy relationships. Overall, the article addresses the need for comprehensive sexuality education to address the issue of child abuse and promote a healthier understanding of relationships and boundaries among young adults.

Decoding the Editorial

Focus on Comprehensive Sexuality Education:

  • The article suggests that one effective approach to preventing child abuse, including sexual abuse, is through comprehensive sexuality education.
  • This form of education, as defined by the United Nations (UN), involves teaching and learning about various aspects of sexuality, including cognitive, emotional, physical, and social elements.
  • The goal of  it is to provide young people with the knowledge and skills to make informed decisions about their bodies, relationships, and personal boundaries.
  • The article also points out that certain State governments and segments of society in India have opposed comprehensive sexuality education, claiming that it sexualizes children and goes against “Indian values.”
  • This opposition has led to the watering down or withdrawal of existing sexuality education programs.
  • The article suggests that these traditional values often stem from patriarchal and hierarchical social structures, which can perpetuate harmful attitudes and behaviours.
  • Mass media is also mentioned as a contributor to propagating such values.

Understanding Consent:

The article is discussing the concept of sexual consent, its significance in maintaining healthy relationships and preventing abuse, and the challenges and awareness around it in the Indian context.

  • High Court and Judicial Perspective:
    • The article highlights that several Indian High Courts (Madras, Delhi, and Meghalaya) along with the Chief Justice of India have drawn attention to the tendency to criminalize consensual adolescent relationships in cases falling under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
    • They have suggested the government consider reducing the age of consent.
    • This implies that there is a growing recognition that the legal framework should better differentiate between consensual adolescent relationships and cases of abuse.
  • Lack of Awareness:
    • The article questions the level of awareness and understanding of sexual consent among Indian teenagers and young adults.
    • It cites a study conducted by the dating app Tinder, which indicates that a significant portion (more than 64%) of young people in Mumbai were hesitant about giving, asking for, or withdrawing consent in dating situations.
    • This lack of awareness is seen as concerning, especially in the context of building healthy relationships.
  • Cultural and Linguistic Context:
    • The term “sexual consent” itself might have been borrowed from English or other Western languages and might not have a strong traditional precedent in Indian languages and cultures.
    • With a substantial non-English speaking population, there is a need to create explicit vocabulary in regional languages to discuss the nuances of sexual consent.
  • Importance of Comprehensive Sexuality Education:
    • The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data is cited to emphasize the importance of comprehensive sexuality education not only for children but also for parents and caregivers.
    • The data suggests that both male and female children are victims of sexual abuse, underscoring the urgency of educating all stakeholders about these issues.

Importance and challenges of implementing comprehensive sexuality education:

The article goes on to discuss the importance and challenges of implementing comprehensive sexuality education in India. It touches upon various aspects related to the need for such education, its potential benefits, the challenges in its implementation, and recent developments in this field.

  • Importance of Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE):
    • The article cites the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) to emphasize that comprehensive sexuality education is a fundamental human right that empowers young people to protect their health, well-being, and dignity.
    • The UN recommends starting comprehensive sexuality education from a young age (starting at five years old) as a part of formal education.
    • This education covers topics like understanding one’s body, emotions, the basics of consent, and addressing violence, bullying, or abuse.
  • Benefits of Comprehensive Sexuality Education:
    • The Journal of Adolescent Health, quoted by the World Health Organization, suggests that comprehensive sexuality education better informs young people about their rights and sexuality, and is linked to delayed sexual activity.
    • It also notes that programs based solely on abstinence have not been effective in achieving these goals.
  • Addressing Intimate Partner Violence:
    • The UNFPA guidance emphasizes the importance of incorporating monitoring and evaluation components related to inequality, gender norms, power dynamics in relationships, and intimate partner violence within comprehensive sexuality education programs.
    • This suggests that such education can play a role in preventing and addressing intimate partner violence.
  • Integration into Curriculum:
    • The Kerala High Court was informed that awareness about the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act would be included in the curriculum from 2024-25.
    • This reflects an effort to integrate relevant legal and awareness components into the education system.
  • Teacher Training and Challenges:
    •  The UNESCO 2021 Global Status Report on comprehensive sexuality education underscores the importance of training teachers to effectively deliver this curriculum, as it requires participatory pedagogies.
    • The report also highlights the challenges posed by inaccurate information and societal values that inhibit discussions on sexuality and rights.
  • Government and NGO Collaboration:
    • The article discusses a case study from Jharkhand, where a school-based program called Udaan, initially focused on Adolescent Reproductive and Sexual Health and led by a State AIDS Control Society, got integrated into the Education Department.
    • This is presented as a model of commitment to scaling up comprehensive sexuality education through collaboration between government bodies and NGOs.
  • State-Level Responsibility: In India, the responsibility for implementing sexuality education lies with State governments, allowing each State to develop creative curriculums within a broader framework.

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