Sex-Ed

20 Nov

My dear readers, you should be aware by now. Matters of all kinds find a way on my blog.

This post is a call for help. I know its long, but please read it completely and ponder over it, because your 2 cents on it may be very crucial.

This incident is about someone who I know very closely – ‘N’.

‘N’ is a volunteer teacher and mentor at an institution that has taken up the responsibility of teaching underprivileged children. She takes various classes for children aging from 5-15. A maximum of children that she teaches fall in the adolescent age group and are growing up. Also, since these kids do not have parental guidance and are responsibilities of shelter homes; they do not have people who are able to take care of them in the same way a parent could have.

Teachers are indulgent towards their kids in terms of affection. They let them hold hands, or sit close by in groups when stories are being read out. They also listen to the various incidents and stories that the kids narrate. These children are treated and called as their own, and the teachers have taken it upon themselves to provide them with brotherly/sisterly/parental love and guidance; to the best of their means.

There is a boy aged 11 – ‘S’, in N’s class. This little boy is very withdrawn. He does not mingle with the other kids. He tunes out during class when he wants to. He has lost his mother and his father is a beggar. Maybe, that is what inhibits him from making friends. I am sorry, I cannot elaborate more on the problems that he is facing, growing up. I am not good at child psychology. ‘N’ understands that better.

The teachers have been trying to draw this kid out of his shell bit by bit, by taking them in his confidence and giving him some extra attention. Unfortunately their attention and affection has not been reciprocated the way it should have been.

‘S’ has been charged twice by two different mentors for having sexual innuendos. On one incident he was blamed for rubbing his organ against one of the teachers. And on the second occasion, he drew N’s hand to his privates and wanted to be felt.

Both, N and the other teacher are disgusted with what happened. It was a violation of sorts. They did not know how to react to it, and just withdrew themselves from the boy’s vicinity without creating a scene. The matter was discussed with other teachers and mentors, and one of them (a male) decided to have a man-to-man conversation with ‘S’ to understand what is going on.

‘S’ confessed guilty of the complaints, which means that it wasn’t exactly a child’s innocent mistake altogether, but it was probably not something that ‘S’ understood as wrong either. He is hitting puberty and is probably just curious about things. These poor kids have no-one to give them any education about growing up, puberty, the right touch and the wrong touch, sex education etc.

The institute that ‘N’ is volunteering for has decided to give ‘S’ another chance by simply having told him that what he has done is wrong and should not repeat. I understand that they must consider the safety of their volunteer teachers as well, but ‘N’ and I agree that it would be really harsh on a child to snatch away his only chance of having an education, because the teachers do not know better ways to handle the situation and impart some very important education.

The problem is that most of us (inclusive of the volunteer teachers and mentors) weren’t taught anything of that sorts explicitly either.

There was no formal sex education in schools. There was no education at home. Parents do not discuss these things with their children, not even when they have grown up to be adults, and neither when they are on the verge of getting married. Sex is a first time experiment for many Indians on their wedding bed.

Most of the knowledge that people gain about sex is either through encyclopaedias borrowed from the library, or by paying attention to a specific chapter that has found its way in the standard 7th or 8th biology textbook or from the internet (all thanks to Google for that).

Ironically, we are citizens of country that is called the land of ‘Kamasutra’. A country where talking or discussing sex is distasteful. In fact, sex is considered a dirty word and a dirty act that serves to fulfil only the basest animal instincts. The word is such a taboo that people would rather use the word gender instead of sex (in the other meaning, of course).

Coming back to the problem statement, how do young adults who have only half-baked ideas and incomplete knowledge, and who themselves are victims of sex=dirty syndrome, impart sex education to a younger generation?

Imagine what COULD happen if ‘S’ gets thrown out of the program based on this?

Growing older without any more education of any sorts since nobody is volunteering to take his case up, once he gets written as troublemaker. Growing up and thinking that he scared away someone by what he did, feeling that what he did empowered him. Growing up to be an adult with a twisted mentality – not being able to differentiate right from wrong, feeling that violating a woman gives him power.

On the extreme, do you think we would be responsible for shaping a young (probably) innocent mind into a probable rapist?

The thought is horrifying, if true.

Can something be done about it?

Is there a way to handle this?

Is there anyone who can or knows someone who can facilitate learning of important things like sex for the children in Hyderabad, and is willing to help?

Are there books in form of stories for children which would help them the grasp idea and also make it easier for the volunteer teachers to provide indirect education?

P.S: Obviously this is a problem on a larger scale, and has not got much to do with this child being underprivileged. Sex education must be made mandatory in schools. There are very few schools that currently impart it. I have no clue how and what to do about this on a country level. I would be very glad if ‘N’ and others could just start somewhere with solving the problem they have on hand. Maybe that will pave way somewhere, somehow.

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13 Responses to “Sex-Ed”

  1. Shobha Gosa November 20, 2013 at 6:46 PM #

    hi, thanks for bringing this up. its unfortunate that many teens like ‘S’ suffer with sexual identity and misunderstanding issues related to puberty. Our Teen2Teen programme is designed to help teens to understand and handle their own teen issues with the help of an adult/ volunteer/ parent. we are holding in schools, and NGo;’s working in slums- teens are very open to discuss with us their fears and problems. please do join us if u have time, probably it may help you to help your friend.

  2. Shivani November 20, 2013 at 8:29 PM #

    Hi Shobha,

    I am open to learning ways to tackle the issue under your Teen2Teen program. That may help all of us, as a community, to find ways to tackle the issue at large.

    But, the need to address S’s problem is urgent because one more such mistake by ‘S’ will result in him being barred from the education he deserves. There are other children too who need guidance, but maybe that can be taken up, a step at a time. In S’s case, ‘N’ cannot afford to wait long enough for me to learn things from you and then teach them to her or her co-workers.

    I have not written this on behalf of the NGO, N works for. This is a personal call for help and I will be glad if you could offer some advice or guidance. Help should not be conditional, no? In my opinion, it shouldn’t be doled out under banner names, even if we work under different names.

    Thanks.

    • Shobha Gosa November 20, 2013 at 8:43 PM #

      hi Shivani, I can understand your point and the immediate need for S. I mentioned about our programme, cause I wanted atleast people (who are reading this blog) to know, we are here to help teens, it doesn’t matter what banner or under name. I would be happy to talk to N, if she is willing. Pls do pass my mobile no. she is also welcome to meet in person. best wishes

      • Shivani November 20, 2013 at 10:46 PM #

        Thanks Shobha 🙂 I appreciate it. Shall pass on your number.

  3. latsthoughts November 20, 2013 at 8:49 PM #

    It is a very interesting post. Also it’s a very valid concern.

    Sex education must be imparted to children so that they can understand what is right and what is wrong from the very beginning.
    This will help them in not becoming a nuisance to society.

    Imparting sex education to children while growing up will go a long way in curbing Rapes and other heinous crimes that are committed due to lack of knowledge or just out of curiosity.

    Sex education will also help children recognize a good touch from a bad touch. Often things like rape happen to young children by people who are known to them. If they learn to recognize bad touch from the beginning, they can learn to raise an alarm if nothing else.

    Along with sex education it is important to teach children how their bodies are different from each other.

    And like you said, sex education is important not only to under-privileged children but to all children. No matter what your background is, you need that knowledge.

    • Shivani November 20, 2013 at 10:47 PM #

      Very well put, Lats!

  4. Shivani November 20, 2013 at 11:04 PM #

    Interesting fact: The blog counter moved from 444 to 542, which means that appx 100 people have read it, already. And yet, only 2 people have something to say about it. Is sex that much of a taboo topic, that people wont even make suggestions? 🙂

  5. sharath November 22, 2013 at 12:47 AM #

    the state board of education in AP has made aids campaign mandatory for all the kids from class 8. i was a student then. i felt that it has all the necessary information that teen must know. i think you can get in touch with a teacher at Govt school. they will be glad to educate children.

    • Shivani November 22, 2013 at 9:16 AM #

      Thank you Sharath. I shall ask ‘N’ to get in touch with teachers from the state board, and see if they are able to help.

      Do aids campaigns include sex education? I was part of one for a short while, and the only way anything related to sex came up in the campaigns was the mention of AIDS being an STD… usually mentioned in the short again, since sex was a word-that-must-not-be-said…

      • sharath November 22, 2013 at 1:09 PM #

        yes they do. we had one for 2 days. it covered almost everything right from the trainer’s personal experiences to the honesty factor in a relation ship.

        • Shivani November 22, 2013 at 11:51 PM #

          That sounds like a detailed session.

  6. Vijayanth November 22, 2013 at 8:18 AM #

    To start off, I think that neither a complete ignorance, nor an abundance of knowledge on the birds and the bees would have changed the way ‘S’ behaved. I do not mean to imply that sex ed, particularly for children growing up and coming to terms with the changes in their bodies, is not important. It is essential. But I think a lack of sex ed is not the root cause of the behaviour exhibited by ‘S’.

    What this child, in fact, any child in general, needs to be taught, is to treat people as people, and not as objects. To respect the other person’s personal space, and not to encroach into it unless the other person consents. That it is wrong and disrespectful to cross personal boundaries. In fact, looked at one way, the “sex=dirty syndrome” that you spoke of, indirectly ensures that children are reticent in making unwelcome advances till they are atleast more mature and can understand what is going on. But that isn’t the right way to go about it, for it creates more problems than it solves.

    Based on what you’ve written, I think the teachers at the institute where ‘N’ works are to blame as well, in how ‘S’ has begun to behave. I wouldn’t be surprised if more such “S’s” crop up in that institution. And why do I say so?Well, to begin with, any child is capable of, and indeed does, exploit the love and affection that is showered on him/her. Parents undoubtedly learn sooner or later that the dictum “Spare the rod and spoil the child” has a ring of truth around it, and there are occassions where, even if your heart tells you otherwise, you have to be firm with children, for their own good. It is comendable that the teachers in this institution are doing their best to fill up the emotional void that these children have, given the circumstances of their upbringing. But in cases of children such as ‘S’, who come face to face with the hardships and the harshness of life all too soon, and are forced to grow up internally just to survive; love, care, affection shown by anyone might soon be misconstrued as a sign of acquiescence. The teachers, as you say, are indulgent towards the children. I take it that means they are quite linient when it comes to disciplining them. So when any child who, presumably, is beaten or abused for the slightest error at home, comes face to face with someone who doesn’t do that, the child might soon come to think it is ok for him/her to behave badly in front of the teacher(s), because they don’t seem to mind it.

    I believe it is this, more than a lack of sex ed that dictates how ‘S’ has behaved. He probably feels it is fine for him to behave that way.If this is indeed the case, then the only remedy I see is to teach ‘S’ that his behaviour towards ‘N’ and her colleague is unacceptable, and will not be tolerated, not just when done towards them both, but to anyone at all. If this is not done at the earliest, I fear he may misbehave the same way with his classmates, for instance, believing he is doing no wrong.

    How this is achieved is a bigger problem, however. A child who is acclimatised to indulgence in “school” might just feel alienated and scared if the teachers become too harsh suddenly. On the other hand, continual indulgence will only worsen the problem. A delicate operation, this.

    • Shivani November 26, 2013 at 6:07 PM #

      Vijayanth,

      // What this child, in fact, any child in general, needs to be taught, is to treat people as people, and not as objects. To respect the other person’s personal space, and not to encroach into it unless the other person consents. That it is wrong and disrespectful to cross personal boundaries.

      I completely agree with you on this. My question is how do you teach this to children who barely have any other sort of education, forget sex education. Do you start with biology? Or with manners? Or what is morally right/wrong? Do you think either of these would really help solve the problem?

      See, from general observation and a little detailed reading, I can tell you this much – the pleasure that one can get from touching themselves is not age defined. Toddlers as young as 3 can be seen rubbing themselves on various surfaces.

      For example, kids are towelled dry by moms/nannies. After a certain age a child starts understanding that there is a sensation of pleasure that comes along when he is rubbed down there. And he learns to do so himself. But the same pleasure is wrong when he asks to be touched by someone else, without consent.

      How do you tell that to a child?

      // ………….children such as ‘S’, who come face to face with the hardships and the harshness of life all too soon, and are forced to grow up internally just to survive; love, care, affection shown by anyone might soon be misconstrued as a sign of acquiescence. The teachers, as you say, are indulgent towards the children. I take it that means they are quite lenient when it comes to disciplining them.

      The teachers are strict in their own ways – they make the children have timeouts for fights and demand apologies from both parties. Disobedience and incomplete work is not encouraged either. You cannot take to a rod for these things. You cannot give a child more hardship just because that’s the only way he is used to learning by. What would be the whole point of teaching the underprivileged children then? Is it not in the hands of the teachers to make them see that they can make a better world for themselves if they take their education seriously. That the education can make a difference in their lives? Maybe very few of them may climb the corporate ladder, but even if they know basic things and counting, they may be able to earn themselves a decent livelihood by working in a grocery store or something. It would be better than giving up on life and taking to begging or thieving.

      I agree that ‘N’ and her colleague could have done something better than just stepping away from the scene. They should have taken up the issue with ‘S’ and for the other children as well. Frustratingly, they are not adept at handling this. And neither do the other teachers know how to take the bull by the horns either. I wouldn’t have written this post, had it been that easy…

      I fear that ‘S’ may never understand the difference between the right and wrong of his actions, if it is not taught to him explicitly. That is where IMO, sex-ed comes in.

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