Author: Ishita Chaudhry (Founder, The YP Foundation & Ashoka Fellow)
What is Comprehensive Sexuality Education and what are its benefits?
Why are we saying CSE and not Sex Ed? Because there is a difference between both. Particularly, Comprehensive Sexuality Education is what you call the whole package of information and life skills that children, adolescents and young people need. It doesn’t just talk about body and anatomy (the biology basically), but looks at ‘equipping young people with knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that they need to determine and enjoy and understand their sexuality – physically and emotionally, individually as well as in relationships. It covers a broad range of issues relating to the physical, biological, emotional as well as social aspects of sexuality and human development, which includes but is not limited to, understanding one’s body and reproductive health’ as defined by the International Planned Parenthood Federation. CSE creates a safe, positive, non-judgmental space for people of all ages (ages 5 and upwards!) to access this information and analyze how it would best apply to themselves. Information when delivered is age appropriate and based on evidence rather then morality.
For Sexuality Education to be effective, it needs to be understood in the context of the environment a person lives in. Good quality CSE programmes take into account that sexuality and human development relate to all aspects of our lives and are linked to multiple issues. For example, issues such as poverty, gender, religion, caste, even climate change, access, migrant status, disability, HIV status can all be relevant factors that influence and impact what kind of information or services people need and how they can access the same. CSE also enables young people, especially young women and girls to understand their rights, develop leadership and life skills and strengthen inter-personal relationships with key stakeholders (such as parents) in their communities.
CSE is based on the idea that everyone negotiates decisions differently and different things work for different people. That does not mean that we use culture as a pre-text to deny young people information, rather it endorses that young people should be empowered to take informed decisions and protect themselves. This information should empower young people to understand, access and ensure their Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights. Sexuality Education should ideally not be implemented in a piecemeal manner but should provide the full range of comprehensive information that everyone needs, without stigma or discrimination.
Why do children, adolescents and young people need this information?
All children, adolescents and young people have a right to this education as part of their right to information, right to education and right to health under the Indian Constitution. India has also agreed to several international agreements at the United Nations and has signed on to the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD)’s Programme of Action (PoA) in 1994. India also led 47 countries to a landmark political ministerial declaration renewing the ICPD PoA at the 6th Asia and Pacific Population Conference in September 2013, committing to implement CSE for all adolescents and young people. But we don’t have to look outside our country; here are some statistics on why we need this information, now!
- On contraception and violence: For a majority of young people, the first time they have sex, it is unprotected and for a sizeable proportion of young women, it is forced and non-consensual.
- On accessing CSE: A study of the All India Educational and Vocational Guidance Institute found that 42% to 52% of students felt that they do not have adequate knowledge about sex. A Population Council study on Youth in India (2006-2007) showed that 15% of young people reported ever having had any kind of sexuality education.
- On preventing infection and accessing services: In the same Population Council study, young people’s knowledge of Sexually Transmitted Infections and Sexually Transmitted Diseases was abysmally low. Few (25-35%) know how frequently oral pills are taken; just 30% of young women know that one male condom can be used just once. Few have heard of other STIs (<20%) and about 10% of young men and women reported symptoms of infection. Just 13-14% had ever received sexual and reproductive health information or counseling from a healthcare professional, more married than unmarried.
- On reducing new HIV infections: India already has the third-highest number of people living with HIV in the world. Although in India numbers of new HIV infections have declined by 19 per cent, it still accounts for 38 per cent of all new HIV infections in the Asia Pacific region. More than 50% of all new infections occur in young people. Young adults aged 15–29 years, account for 32% of AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) cases reported in India and the number of young women living with HIV/AIDS is twice that of young men.
- On preventing early and forced marriage: Despite a law on legal marriageable age being 18, 47% of girls in India are married before their 18th birthday. In Bihar and Rajasthan its 69% and 65% respectively. Almost half of young women aged 20-24 married as children (<18) and almost 1/5th before the age of 15. India has second-highest number of child marriages, according to a U.N. report, which says the country, still needs to stop gender-based sex selection.
- On teenage pregnancies, reproductive rights and unwanted pregnancies: India is a global leader in teenage pregnancy. Around the world, there are some 16 million girls under the age of 18 years giving birth every year. Almost 4 million of them are in India. 29% of married young women initiated childbearing before age 18. 17% of 15-24 year old married girls reported that their last pregnancy was mistimed or unwanted.
- On increasing access to safe abortion: Despite abortion being legal in India, a woman in India dies every two hours because an abortion goes wrong. India is home to the most maternal deaths in the world and that 50% of those fatalities are in the 19- to 24-year-old age group. 17% of 15-24 year old married girls reported that their last pregnancy was mistimed or unwanted.
Where can I go for more information?
There are several resources available online and offline, here are some that you can check out for more information or to get involved with CSE programmes in India!
- The YP Foundation is a youth-led organization that runs one of India’s few youth-led programmes on CSE. The ‘Shareer Apna, Adhikaar Apne’ or ‘Know Your Body, Know Your Rights’ programme where they conduct peer based workshops with adolescents and young people in urban and rural communities and in schools on CSE and access to health services. Learn more about them at http://www.theypfoundation.org/ and learn more about the project at http://www.theypfoundation.org/programmes/srhr/. Get in touch with them at email@example.com.
- Point of View is a non-profit that aims to promote the points of view of women through a sustained and creative use of media, art and culture. They run a CSE programme for young people living with disabilities in Maharashtra. You can learn more about the programme at their blog http://sexdisblog.org/, on storify at https://storify.com/dis_sexuality and Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SDdotorg. Visit http://www.sexualityanddisability.org/ for more information on Sexuality and Disability.
- Helpline: (For information, not sex lines or party lines.)
- Kahi, Unkahi Batein is a helpline that can answer your questions and keep them confidential. Run 24/7, young people can get information on health, consent, contraception and violence. Run by CREA in partnership with TARSHI, Gramvaani and Gurgaon ki Awaaz. More information on the helpline is available here: https://soundcloud.com/vapmok/kahi-ankahi-baatein. Helpline Number: 09266292662 (in India) – give a missed call and they will call you back! Available in Hindi and English. You can also visit www.tarshi.net for more information on CSE and a range of related sources.
- The TARSHI helpline: Call at 91-11- 462 2221 and 91-11-462 4441.You can ask questions, resolve doubts and share concerns about any issue that is related to sexuality or reproductive health on the helpline. Call anytime between Mondays and Fridays from 9am to 5pm. All calls are confidential which means that we respect your feelings and your privacy and do not reveal your concerns to others who call. The TARSHI helpline is managed by trained and sensitive counselors and directed by a qualified clinical psychologist. The helpline is for people of all ages and women are especially encouraged to call.
- TARSHI has a range of books on Sexuality Education that help parents, teachers, adolescents and young people break down CSE and understand these issues better. You can order the books here: http://tarshi.net/index.asp?pid=9. We would recommend:
- The Blue Book (For ages 15 and under)
- The Red Book (For ages 10 to 14)
- The Orange Book (A teacher’s workbook on sexuality)
- The Yellow Book (A parent’s guide to sexuality education)
1. ‘Timing of first sex before marriage and its correlates: Evidence from India’, K.G. Santhya, Rajib Acharya, Shireen Jejeebhoy, Usha Ram, Culture, Health and Sexuality 13(3): 327-341, Published 2011
2. http://sexualrightsinitiative.com/wp-content/uploads/India-UPR-1-YC.pdf – This is older data.
3. UNAIDS Gap Report. Source: http://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/health/india-has-3rdhighest-number-of-hivinfected-people-un/article6220483.ece
4. It’s more common in rural areas -56% – than urban -29%. Source: Girls Not Brides: http://www.girlsnotbrides.org/child-marriage/india/
5. Population Council
6. ‘Improving Children’s Lives, Transforming the Future — 25 years of child rights in South Asia’, UNICEF
7. Guttmacher Institute
8. Population Council
9. Population Council
10. The Hindu, http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/unsafe-abortions-killing-a-woman-every-two-hours/article4686897.ece
11. Save The Children, http://www.savethechildrenweb.org/SOWM-2013/files/assets/common/downloads/State of the WorldOWM-2013.pdf
12. Population Council