Senator, Doctor, Apostle David Durant has the right to oppose the subject of Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE ) in our nation’s schools but it does not make him right; neither is he entitled to manufacture his own facts. His opposition, like that of the far right religious fanatics in the USA, is rooted in a set of deep-seated myths and downright misinformation based on denial and failure to accept that in this day and age, our children cannot be insulated from the realities of today’s twenty first century world.
CSE empowers young people to know and demand their rights. It does not lead to earlier sexual activity or riskier sexual behaviour. In fact, the opposite is true since credible research has consistently shown that children exposed to this education have avoided premature sexual activity, experience less sexually transmitted infections, less teenage pregnancies and have demonstrated higher levels of self-esteem.
Information on almost every subject under the sun is no more than a click away and our children routinely access such information with or without parental knowledge or consent. In my view, it is far better for them to be exposed to good quality information and education taught by competent, highly skilled professionals in an age-appropriate format and which take their evolving capacities into consideration than for them to have to learn through the same bitter experiences of children of a bygone era when blissful ignorance of their sexuality was the order of the day.
I strongly recommend the research of Mr Richard Carter, former Youth Affairs Director which revealed that children in our school system were sexually active and in some instances were engaged in sexual activity with multiple partners including other school-aged children. Up until 1980, 28 per cent of total births in Barbados were to teenagers including school children. Thankfully, that number has fallen significantly since then, thanks in large measure to the advocacy of the Barbados Family Planning Association and Health (BFPA) and Family Life Educators (HFLE) generally.
My friend, Senator Durant, and his religious colleagues must know that sexual activity, especially among children of school age, is an open secret in homes, schools, communities and even the churches
across the world and that Barbados is no exception. We know as well that with the best will in the world, some well-meaning teachers and school officials are not specially trained to identify with any degree of accuracy the signs and/or symptoms of this abuse.
CSE goes beyond the “birds and the bees” to address positive values as they relate to sexual and reproductive health, family life, relationships, culture and gender roles within the context of gender equality. HFLE is already included in the curriculum of Caribbean schools but this subject is generally so diluted and wrapped with traditional cultural myths that it misses by a mile the experience of the children for whose benefit it was intended.
We who are not in blissful denial will be aware that a significant percentage of parents, teachers and yes, pastors/apostles, are most uncomfortable with issues relating to sexuality, especially as it relates to children and, therefore, find it most painful and almost impossible to have an objective and dispassionate conversation on the subject. The girl’s first period and the boy’s first wet dream are enough to cause some parents to “freak out” further- more a discussion on sexual stimulation by their innocent yet curious children.
The opposition to CSE by some adults, especially the developmentally backward and intimidated, stems from the misguided fear of same–sex relationships and education which helps children of the requisite age to understand that irrespective of our sexual orientation, we are “made in the image and likeness of the Almighty” and are worthy of no less respect and dignity than any other person. Sexual diversity is real and cannot be ignored in a truly democratic society which rejoices in the label of being a Christian society.
I make bold to say that persons who seek to deny our children access to CSE on the basis of their denial, fear, homophobic disposition or warped religions belief are doing them a great disservice. Perhaps it would be useful to inquire what sexuality information our school age children have acquired from their parents or the community either directly or indirectly. What questions they would like to have answered and which are not being effectively addressed by parents, teachers or their religious leaders.
Fnally, are we as an educated and enlightened people really serious about depriving our nation’s children of information and education which could make the difference between their ability to successfully navigate their childhood and life generally with a full understanding of self and the most private, sensitive and emotionally challenging aspect of their lives with confidence, inner peace and pride? Or, are we prepared to let accumulated ignorance, guilt and self-doubt continue to flourish so that we can preserve the fire and brimstone mentality which only seeks to reinforce the discrimination, ostracism and bigotry so detrimental to the well-rounded development of our nation’s youth?
Ultimately, it is about fundamental rights and freedoms and the child’s right to good quality information.
(George Griffith is a social worker and former executive director of the Barbados Family Planning Association)