Cultural and Religious Impediments against Sex Education

Wed, 5 Dec 2012 Source: Owusu, Stephen Atta

Cultural and Religious Impediments against Sex Education in Ghanaian Schools

Sex education is instruction on issues relating to human sexuality including human sexual anatomy, sexual reproduction, sexual intercourse, reproductive health, emotional relations, reproductive rights and responsibilities, abstinence, birth control, contraception, sexually transmitted diseases, and other aspects of human sexual behaviour. Common avenues for sex education are parents or caregivers, formal school programs, and public health campaigns.

Sex education in schools began in the 70s in most European countries, and also in U.S.A and Canada. In Finland, sex education is incorporated into various obligatory courses mainly as part of Biology lessons in lower grades and, later, in courses related to general health issues. The Population and Family Welfare Federation provides all 15 year olds with an introductory sexual package that includes information brochures, a condom and a cartoon love story. Can these ever happen in Ghana?

In Ghana there is great controversy over the appropriateness of sex education in schools. Religion and the Ghanaian culture consider sexuality as sacrosanct, something that should not be discussed with children and adolescents. Some cultures insist that a child lives in the parents’ house until he or she is ready to marry. Even though Ghanaians do not expect a woman to be a virgin before she marries, parents still keep their girls away from boys. Traditionally girls are taught to sit well so they do not expose themselves. This makes young boys curious and inquisitive to know what it is they have behind. Traditionally, boys are not taught anything about the anatomy of women, thus making them very ignorant when they come of age. Religion, on the other hand, is also very uncompromising when it comes to teaching sex education in schools. The church more especially insists on total abstinence until one is properly and legally married.

Like in many African countries, Ghana's sex education does not go beyond AIDS teaching. The other ways in which sex education could be explained in Ghana are completely ignored. These include general sex education, other sexually transmitted diseases, contraceptives, abortion and explicit sexuality. Like in the developed countries, sex education should be embedded in biology lessons and health care and this should begin from the Junior High Schools. It is important to explain to the children that partnership must be made up of only opposite sex. Homosexuality must not be encouraged.

In Ghana, there are no national policies or guidelines on what should be taught or not taught which will be disseminated through the Ministry of Education. Introduction of sex education in schools in Ghana would be met with vehement demonstrations and disapproval by parents and the general public who see the teaching of sex education to school children as introducing them to early sexual intercourse and subsequent pregnancies. The understanding and tolerance for sex education among Ghanaian parents are non-existent. Cultural and religious beliefs account for this intolerance for sex education.

Due to intolerance for sex education, sexual encounters among Ghanaian youth are becoming increasingly alarming, leading to unwanted pregnancies, infections and drop-outs from schools. The risk of attracting HIV virus is very high among the youth. Girls are the worst affected with early pregnancies cutting short their dreams to continue their education.

The time is ripe for Ghana to start a new programme aimed at preventing HIV in Ghana, while focusing on earlier and more comprehensive sex education. Ghana has joined other African countries in a research aimed at protecting the next generation from HIV and unintended pregnancies. Recommendations were based on findings from national surveys of about 20,000 African adolescents as well as focus groups, discussions and in-depth interviews of hundreds of young people, parents, teachers and health care providers.

The study found that at least half of 15-19 year olds in Ghana, Burkina Faso, Malawi and Uganda did not receive any sex education because it is not offered at their schools. They often drop out of schools due to unprotected sex leading to early pregnancies. Though all the thirty young Ghanaians interviewed have heard of HIV, fewer than 40% of 15-19 years old can both correctly identify ways of preventing the virus and reject common myths about HIV.

Both parents and religious leaders must allow schools to teach sex education to children. The country must include sex education into the syllabus of teacher training colleges, so that the teachers will be fully equipped to teach the sensitive subject of sex education.

Written by Stephen Atta Owusu

Author: Dark Faces At Crossroads

Email: stephen.owusu@email.com

Columnist: Owusu, Stephen Atta