Young people miss out on CSE as schools remain closed

Young people miss out on CSE as schools remain closed

Date: June 17, 2020
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Matiisetso Mosala

Maseru, 17 June: The outbreak of the Coronavirus has created even greater barriers to accessing comprehensive sexuality education, putting at risk girls and boys in their adolescent stage.

Formal education has long provided a safe space for comprehensive sexuality education to children in their development ages as this is taboo in many of the communities in Lesotho. Parents have relied on schools to teach and share information on sexuality education because it is the dreaded “awkward” talk in many families.

But now, in order to flatten the curve of the spread of Covid-19 schools around the country have been closed since March 2020. While advocating for gender equality, it is also recognized that girl-children are more vulnerable to teenage pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS.

According to the Voice and Choice Barometer 2019, taboos, discomfort and fear prevent parents and other trusted adults from teaching relevant information to help adolescents navigate the complexities of their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

‘Mathabo Masijane, says comprehensive sexuality education is both the responsibility of teachers as it is parents’. She admits that she has her hands full as children are home and likely wandering off during the day, without monitoring because they are either busy with work or domestic duties.

“My daughter is 9 and as much as she is still fairly young the risks are the same because of predators that roam our streets. She is in grade 4 and they have not been introduced to sexuality and reproductive health yet” Masijane said.

For her, the topic is very important but must also be approached in a sensitive manner that is not either too early or too late for children, just right on time. She believes that 13, just as children enter into puberty is the right time to start educating kids and having frequent talks with them.

“While teachers play their part in classrooms, it is important that parents also play theirs because in classrooms it may come off as just another subject they need to pass to progress to the next grade. But coming from parents as well it solidifies what they have already learned coming from a trusted source” emphasized Masijane..

“My daughter knows however not to engage with strangers or take any money or sweets from people as that can put her in possible danger. Also that no one is allowed to touch her inappropriately anywhere,” emphasised Masijane.

21 year old Mamiki Khemisi said most of what she knows about sexuality and reproductive health she was taught in Life Orientation (LO) back in grade 8. Khemisi says she personally would have preferred the education coming from her mother as that would have boosted her confidence.

“As much as teachers are more understanding and are not likely to judge when we interact and ask questions, it would have been nice having my mom talk to me about it. It would have been much more personal for me”, she indicated.

Lintle Lebese, now twelve (12) says she is very close to her mother whom she can openly to talk about anything and everything. She revealed that since the age of eight (8) her mother made her aware of the changes she would see in her body as she grew up.

“She told me about menstruation; how to use sanitary towels and the hygiene associated with it. We talk about boys and she tells me I have the right to say no when I do not want to do anything”, Lebese stated.

The United Nations established the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as the blueprint to achieve a better future for all, leaving no one behind. Goal 5 advocates for gender equality. One of its indicators measures number of countries with laws and regulations that guarantee full and equal access to women and men aged 15 years and older to sexual and reproductive health care, information and education.

Tšepo Makoshola, a father shared that more often than not focus is mostly on girl children at the expense of boy children. He revealed that empowering girl children on sexuality and leaving behind boys is counter-productive.

“We have broken young men today because they were not empowered; they were not educated on the difference between right and wrong and how to treat women. We have high numbers of sexual assault, early and unplanned pregnancies, HIV/AIDS prevalence because the education was not balanced between the genders” Makoshola stated.

He fears that if young men are not equally empowered on sexuality education, the gap will widen.

Mpho Lehloka (18) shared that as a young man, the pressure is tenfold to be responsible in the fast-paced world filled with peer pressure and trying to be good. He says beyond what they are taught in schools about knowing who they are, they are influenced a lot by what they see around them and what they watch on television.

“I am more conscious of sexually transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS and know that I should protect myself and the other person. Also, I have got to understand a complex issue for many that consent is extremely important even if we are in a relationship” Lehloka explained.

The Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) is a signatory to the SADC Comprehensive Education Policy. MOET introduced Life Skills education in the curriculum at both primary and secondary schools levels. In addition, a textbooks on Life skills education have been introduced to secondary schools in Grade 8. This encourages the teaching of body parts in Sesotho to demystify sex and sexual education among Basotho learners.

‘Mabataung Maliehe, a Life Skills teacher at Lesotho High School says it is a real challenge now that schools are closed due to Covid-19 pandemic because they are unable to neither educate nor monitor pupils as far as comprehensive sexuality education is concerned.

She says parents are at work during the day leaving the children alone and prone to getting up to all sorts of mischief.

“Some of them know of drugs, alcohol and sex and because there is no school to keep them busy, they may develop curiosities and engage in these without thinking of the consequences,” established Maliehe.

The subject was introduced into the curriculum after the realization that children were getting raped at very young ages and they needed to be empowered. Maliehe says the subject covers a number of topics including identity, relationships, adolescent reproductive system, alcohol and drugs and human rights and responsibility.

“The best approach to teaching Life Skills is to be learner centric. The last thing we want is to be dictating, rather it should be engaging to give them the freedom to share their experiences and participate” Maliehe said.

According to Maliehe, life skills is important for the development of both girl and boy children for their health and well-being and makes them aware of gender equality, violations and discrimination.

As pupils share experiences, Maliehe says their responsibility is to equip them with values, skills and knowledge that will help them grow emotionally, be aware of themselves, be content and relate better with others.

She pointed that one of the challenges in providing sexuality education is the culture and believe of Basotho which make a lot of things taboo, making it hard for them to know how to approach certain topics.

“It is really hard most times but we do it because we have to. There is a lot of conflicting information out here so we have the responsibility to give out the right one” said Maliehe.

She says because charity begins at home, the three-legged pot concept forming three pillars of the pupil, teachers and parents is very important, adding they do this through assignment which propel pupils to sought assistance from parents. The tricky part she says is the appropriate age to start the education as it needs to start as soon as possible but neither too early nor too late.

“I am aware that the subject has been introduced at primary level too and I am certain that they ensured that the content differs from the secondary one for appropriateness” she maintained.

Matiisetso Mosala is a journalist from Lesotho. This story is part of the Gender Links News Service Gender and COVID19 news series

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