THE FAMILY Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT) calls on the Government to implement comprehensive sexuality education in all primary and secondary schools now.
The association is astounded by the number of sexual offences being perpetrated against minors in this country. The horrifying front page headline in Thursday’s Newsday, “13 and pregnant,” is something that the country at all levels should be deeply concerned about.
The reality of the increasing levels of sexual abuse sends a stark reminder to us of how little control our children actually have over their bodies and their lives.
Sexuality education can provide an appropriate framework and context for educating students about sexual abuse. Knowledge is power and education and information are the only resource which young people could use to safeguard and defend themselves against unsolicited and unwanted sexual exploitation.
The Ministry of Education, parents and guardians have a moral responsibility to our children to ensure that they are appropriately equipped with the necessary information and education to defend themselves against sexual predators. To do less is to encourage harm to young people and fail them in realising their full potential in life.
The need for sexuality education is never more pressing than right now. Far too many children and young people are not receiving adequate preparation for a safe and satisfying adult sexual life. Frank and honest discussion of sexual matters with trusted adults is severely lacking at a time when it is most needed.
Why is there such continued objection, from those who should know better, to empowering young people with the appropriate and correct information, the only tool they can use in defence of their vulnerability?
Rather, this painful, persistent, unsettling national nuisance is immensely compounded by the pervasive, confusing, conflicting and predominantly negative messages which children continue to receive about sexuality and gender through the various social media.
This further contributes to creating and sustaining vulnerability to coercion, abuse and exploitation from the same adults who have responsibility for ensuring their protection from harm. The reality of sexual abuse indicates how little control some children actually have over their bodies and lives.
There is enough evidence to show that sexuality education is the only form of recourse that young people can use to defend themselves against the abhorrent sexual behaviour perpetrated by adults on them.
UNESCO’s (2009) publication underscores that the primary goal of sexuality education is to equip children and young people with the knowledge, skills and values to make responsible choices about their sexual and social relationships in a world affected by HIV.
In addition to learning about the risks of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, children and young people also need to learn about the risk of sexual exploitation and abuse in order to recognise these when they occur, to protect themselves as much as possible and to identify and access available sources of support.
Sensitising parents, teachers, police and local communities to the nature and extent of sexual violence, and giving permission to discuss it with young people, are essential steps in tackling this behaviour.
Being able to distinguish between “good” and “bad” touch, learning how to communicate their feelings, to resist unwanted advances and bullying and to seek help are all key components of comprehensive sexuality education that are also highly relevant to sexual abuse.
Effective implementation of comprehensive sexuality education continues to be woefully hampered by the lack of adequate financial resources, lack of political commitment, lack of parental support, untrained teachers, community opposition and reliance upon authoritarian approaches to addressing human sexuality, the heart of our being.
FPATT calls on the Minister of Finance, Colm Imbert, to take one last critical look at his 2019 budget presentation before he reads it on Monday, to ensure that he has allocated the necessary financial resources to the Ministry of Education and the Family Planning Association to work together to ensure that we are able to close the gap in our children’s education and to eradicate this scourge that continues to haunt us daily.
He must demonstrate his political acumen to improve the lot of young people by investing in them and protecting them from the ravages of this unacceptable and heinous behaviour.
We owe it to our children to protect them from harm and to educate them in their best interest. As the great Dr Eric Williams once said, “The children of this nation carried the future of this country in their schoolbags.” Let’s do it for them. To do less is unpardonable.
Dona Da Costa Martinez
Dona Da Costa Martinez is the executive director of the Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago