Starting sex education early

2012-09-22 09:44

Yes, Save the Children does intend to teach five-year-olds about sexuality education.

Our project to boost sexuality education for children will include 12 countries across Africa and will reach about 340 000 children between five and 18.

This was met with consternation, owing mostly to the fact that we would include children so young in our programme.

Most objections we received can be summed up by these comments: “What does a five-year-old know about sex?”; “Shouldn’t we preserve children’s innocence?” and “This is against our culture.”

All valid questions, especially when they come from those who have not had the chance to study this topic in its entirety.

However, if they go unresolved, these ­questions also have the ­potential to become barriers to the valuable progress we have made in protecting young children from HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

A five-year-old may not know about sex, but this is usually the age at which a child’s natural curiosity on the subject begins.

Children will often ask an innocent question, such as “Where do ­babies come from?” or “Why are you kissing Mummy?”

As parents and ­caregivers it is our responsibility not to admonish the child for these questions, but to answer them ­accurately.

Obviously, we don’t need to provide the same level of detail to a five-year-old that we can to a teen.

There are guidelines for how to speak to children about sex and sexuality in a way that is appropriate for their age and experience.

Save the Children uses Unesco’s international technical guidance on sexuality education.

It is a well-documented fact that early sexuality education delays sexual debut, which is as early as 13 or so in South Africa.

 Further, if children receive messages consistent with their age and evolving maturity early, they are more likely and better able to make informed choices once they become sexually active.

It is also known that sexuality education rarely, if ever, leads to sexual initiation.

The key thing to remember is that all information provided to a child on this topic should be done within a framework of love, trust and positive self-esteem.

It is natural to want what is in the best interests of our children and that is a common value across cultures.

What convinces me, as a ­father of two, to give sexuality education the thumbs up is this: Our children are being exposed to it, whether we like it or not.

» Bainbridge is regional director of Save the Children, which is based in Pretoria

» This column was updated after first published to change sex education to sexuality education.

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