Sex Education in India: A Public Problem with a Private Solution?

BY AKILA SHANMUGHAM

Housing over a quarter million of the world’s adolescents within its boundaries, India provides the counterpoint to Japan’s hyper-aging society.1 While a society of young people presents the potential for a revitalized workforce and a progressive societal spirit, it must have the resources necessary for the cultivation of its young populace—including sex education. In 2005, the central government of India instituted this resource through the creation of the Adolescent Education Program (AEP), which, among other priorities, focused on sexual education tailored to address the ongoing HIV/AIDS epidemic. Within India, 31% of victims of HIV/AIDS are adolescents, which made it all the more prudent to address this demographic.2 The ensuing controversy that surrounded the sex education initiative illuminated India’s polemic relationship with sex. Private sources have begun to step in as a nascent solution to this problem.

The HIV/AIDS epidemic in India is directly correlated to inadequacies stemming from a lack of sexual health knowledge, as the most common way in India to contract HIV is through sexual transmission.3 With 1 in 8 cases of HIV originating in India, the current prevalence of this virus has led to a projection that AIDS will be the cause of 17% of all deaths within India by 2033.4 Combating this problem requires knowledge of the need to limit sexual partners, have less risky sex, and to use and know where to access condoms, etc.5 Thus, in order to ensure the spread of such information, India consequently began to plan its sex education program, in order to mold the pathway for healthy future decision-making in adolescents.

teachaids

Actress Anushka Shetty gives a behind-the-scenes interview for the TeachAIDS animations at Annapurna Studios in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh. Source: TeachAIDS.

In order to implement nation-wide sex education, government experts faced the problem of the very subject being taboo in India and in the media. For example, Bollywood has refrained from any sort of sexual depictions throughout its history; in fact, kissing was banned from the screen until the 1990s.6 This silence on sexuality in the media mirrors that of everyday India, where challenges to prevailing notions of modesty and restraint from sexual excess are seen as aggressive threats to the very fabric of Indian society.7 Thus, when the government formed the AEP in 2005 to teach basics of sexuality and STIs and to repudiate sexual myths to primary and secondary students, it only took a matter of two years for controversy to come to a head.8 Many of the most populous regions, such as Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, began to push back against the central government by refusing to institute the program.9 Conservative groups, outraged at a perceived attack on traditional moral values, cited the program as an attack on Indian values and an unwelcome invasion by the West.10 Soon, the government itself denounced the program, which began to unravel as several states decided to institute their own, fragmented versions.

With institutionalized sex education a definitive failure, India has begun to turn to a new savior: private organizations. Sex education workshops led by both for-profit ventures and NGOs have the benefit of being entirely taught by outsiders, who lack the all-encompassing, daily relationship with adolescents that teachers often have.11 Readily available on weekends, workshops engender a space for group discussion, providing privacy for students and parents who may be wary of the public eye. Some nonprofits, such as the Thoughtshop Foundation, provide materials for such workshops. This organization creates educational packages that include flipcharts, stories, and games specifically tailored to different demographics such as rural girls, rural boys, and children living in urban areas.12 Such games are intended to mold the educator into a “facilitator” of learning, who, instead of embodying the tired learning format of simple dictation, helps to create an atmosphere untainted by tension through the freeing aspect of play. This in turn shifts the mind away from the social conventions that mark sex as taboo.13

aids

Members of a family posing waiting at RDT HIV AIDS Hospital of Bathalapalli, Anantapur. Source: Pepe Pont, Flickr.

Although the efforts of private organizations are effective on a small-scale, they simply do not have the reach or authority that a government wide initiative does. In order to make sure that all students receive the same quality of education, uniformity can only result from singular congressional policy, not from grass-root organizations without a cohesive mission. Furthermore, organizations can only target adolescents within the limits of their human resources and production, and cannot enforce attendance for voluntary workshops. In order to solve its reproductive health crises, it is crucial that the Indian government no longer looks at the AEP as a deterrent, but as a learning experience from which to craft a new solution to the lack of reproductive health knowledge among adolescents.

Akila Shanmugham is a freshman in Berkeley College. She can be contacted at akila.shanmugham@yale.edu.

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References:

  1. Adolescence – An Age of Opportunity. (n.d.). Retrieved December 07, 2016, from http://unicef.in/PressReleases/87/Adolescence-An-Age-of-Opportunity
  2. Tripathi, N., & Sekher, T. (2013). Youth in India Ready for Sex Education? Emerging Evidence from National Surveys. PLOS ONE. Retrieved December 7, 2016, from http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0071584
  3. Godbole, S., & Mehendale, S. (2005, April). HIV/AIDS epidemic in India: Risk factors, risk behaviour & strategies for prevention & control. Indian Journal of Medical Research. Retrieved December 7, 2016, from http://search.proquest.com/openview/5694f0c1186b7e8e4828cd9d20b638a9/1?pq-origsite=gscholar
  4. The Basics of HIV Prevention. (2016, June 9). Retrieved December 07, 2016, from https://aidsinfo.nih.gov/education-materials/fact-sheets/20/48/the-basics-of-hiv-prevention
  5. Chandrasekaran, P., Dallabetta, G., Loo, V., Rao, S., Gayle, H., & Alexander, A. (2006, August). Containing HIV/AIDS in India: The Unfinished Agenda, 508-521. Retrieved December 7, 2016, from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1473309906705515
  6. Ray, A. (2013, February 25). On Kissing, Bollywood, and Rebellion. Retrieved December 7, 2016, from http://india.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/25/kissing-is-on-the-rise-in-india-but-not-because-of-bollywood-author-say/?_r=0
  7. Kapur, R. (2000). Postcolonial Erotic Disruptions: Legal Narratives of Culture, Sex, and Nation in India. Columbia Journal of Gender and Law. Retrieved December 7, 2016, from http://heinonline.org/HOL/Page?handle=hein.journals/coljgl10&id=1&collection=journals&index=
  8. Adolescence Education Programme. (n.d.). Retrieved December 07, 2016, from http://unicef.in/PressReleases/333/Adolescence-Education-Programme
  9. Adolescence Education Programme. (n.d.). Retrieved December 7, 2016, from http://knowyourbodyknowyourrights.com
  10. Anandhi, S. (2007, August 18). Sex Education Conundrum. Economic and Political Weekly, 3367-3369. Retrieved December 7, 2016, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/4419913?Search=yes&resultItemClick=true&searchText=sex&searchText=education&searchText=india&searchUri=/action/doBasicSearch?Query=sex+education+india&acc=on&wc=on&fc=off&group=none&seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
  11. Seervai, S. (2015). Outsourcing Sex Education in India. Retrieved December 07, 2016, from http://blogs.wsj.com/indiarealtime/2015/01/30/indsex/
  12. Reproductive Health. (n.d.). Retrieved December 07, 2016, from http://thoughtshopfoundation.org/project_summaries/Reproductive.html
  13. What’s in a Game? (2002, March 15). Retrieved December 7, 2016, from http://www.path.org/publications/files/PATH-Game-Evaluationscr.pdf
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