Nigerian schools have always been big on discipline and punishment. Parents and guardians are not very far behind. When it comes to rebuking children for wrongdoing, the hammer will always fall with the speed and sting of the guillotine. When it comes, however to dialogue between authority and child, the matter becomes dicey. Parents, teachers and generally people in authority find it difficult to hold candid conversations with children; conversations about career, about feelings and least of all, conversations about ‘the birds and bees.’
The importance of sex education is lost on many Nigerian parents and stakeholders. This sometimes is due to the fact that many of them never had the talk from their own parents. It is also possible that they had ‘the talk’ and can remember, all too well, how awkward and uncomfortable it could be for all parties involved. Miss Chioma recounts the only ‘talk’ she had with her mother. She said “my mother told me that if I ever allowed a boy to touch me, I would become pregnant. I took this statement literarily and tried to avoid physical contact with my male colleagues.”
Given the increasingly complex nature of the modern day adolescent, however, sex education is not only important, but has become absolutely necessary. Children have never been more prematurely aware of sex as they are now, thanks to influence from television, music, books, social media etc. This makes it imperative that children be taught how to handle issues concerning their sexuality.
Telling children to abstain, or “just say no” to sex only fuels the fire. Often when you tell a kid not to do something without explaining why, the thing becomes exponentially more appealing to him or her. This is human nature; nothing is more inviting than the mysterious forbidden fruit--remember Eve in the Garden of Eden.
According to the World Health Organisation, sex education for children should be imparted at the age of 12 and above but there is a tussle regarding who has the responsibility of imparting such knowledge. Most parents believe the schools are better equipped to teach kids about sex while the school administrators think children will benefit more from learning from their parents.
Mrs. Onuigbo, a parent and a school teacher said: “I never spoke to my daughters about sex while they were growing up. I assumed they would learn everything they need to know from their teachers in school, probably during health class.” The truth, however, is that Biology or Health Education classes just skate around the subject and so are not sufficient.
In a survey, it was discovered that seven out of every ten Nigerian secondary school pupils learn about sex from movies, novels or from their slightly more experienced friends. A group of SS 1 male students confessed to having resorted to pornography to service their curiosity about the issue while many of the female students have ‘learned by doing.’
Many schools in Nigeria are not equipped to offer sex education classes. There are either no qualified personnel to teach the topic or the available ones are inefficient and inept. A vast majority of them do not have guidance and counselling units. In the few cases where a school has guidance and counselling office, the officers do not have the confidence of the students. Ann, a university student told of her experience: “We had this guidance counsellor who had a reputation of being a gossip so we didn’t feel confident about confiding in her about some issues and so kept it to ourselves.”
The effects of unprepared adolescents experimenting with sex are numerous and far reaching. The rate of teenage pregnancy is on the increase; the streets are filled with children birthing children. Transmission of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) amongst adolescents is at an all-time high and the fight against HIV and AIDS is going badly. This is clearly because kids are not intimated on safe sexual behaviours and practices by their parents or teachers.
Many children are so confused about their sexuality and orientation that they lash out violently, they become socially awkward and are easily exploited by sexual predators. This has led to an increase in the incidence of sexual abuse and rape. Everyday, increasingly macabre news circulates the social media about one incidence of sexual abuse or the other.
Many stakeholders are worried that providing kids with too much information about sex might encourage them to practice it, but the WHO, based on findings from a study has stated that there is no evidence that comprehensive sex education programmes encourage kids to be sexually active. Sex is a natural phenomenon, it is almost impossible to prevent kids from becoming interested on the issue. Instead of trying to fight a lost cause, isn’t it better to equip the kids with the tools they would need to navigate themselves through the stormy sea of adolescence?
There is a need however for all stakeholders to work together to determine how much information is too much information. There has to be standard. Parents need to become teachers and instruct their children and teachers need to become parents and reach out to their students. All hands have got to be on deck to reverse the nasty trends prominent in the society today, for the sake of the society, for the sake of the children and for the sake of the future.