Experts say using sexual education to teach young people about their bodies equips them with life skills that can help them develop into responsible adults.
The experts spoke on Monday at an online event to mark the International Youth Day.
The day has been marked across the world on August 12 since 1999 to raise awareness of the challenges facing the youth around the world.
The theme for this year’s celebration was “Transforming Education.”
To mark the day, the African Youth and Adolescent Network on Population and Development (AfriYAN Nigeria), organised a‘Twitter Chat’ on why Nigeria must take Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) seriously.
The one-hour Tweetchat, monitored by PREMIUM TIMES, featured four panellists.
They are: Nigeria Health Watch, a health communications and advocacy organization; Margaret Bolaji, Youth Program Advisor with Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs in Nigeria; Priscilla Usiobaifo, founder of Brave Heart Initiative (BHI); and Omowumi Ogunrotimi, founder of Gender Mobile.
The panellists corrected several misconceptions about sexual education among young people and shared information on CSE and its numerous benefits.
The panellists said there is a gap in sexual knowledge, especially among Nigerian teens and that there have also been several misconceptions on the issue.
Many uninformed Nigerians believe educating children on sex simply means exposing them to a promiscuous life.
While Nigerian parents cower when sex is mentioned in front of their teens, schools across the country are still struggling to properly teach adolescents about sexual health, especially with regards to the use of contraception.
Many teenagers who are under severe pressure to engage in sexual activities have been negatively affected by this situation. Experts said this is contributing to maternal and child deaths as a result of abortions and child pregnancies.
The prevalence and spread of HIV/AIDS among teenagers are also linked to the nonuse of contraception due to lack of basic sexual education.
According to the United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA) Adolescents and Youth Dashboard for Nigeria, data culled from the 2013 National Demographic Health Survey (NDHS), nationally, 43.5 per cent of girls between the ages of 15-19 have ever had sex, and 29 per cent of them are sexually active. This number is higher for girls living in rural areas, where 55 per cent have ever had sex and 39.9 per cent are sexually active.
Though data shows young people are sexually active, Nigeria Nutrition and Health Survey 2018 revealed that only 4.8 per cent of adolescents aged 15-19 are using modern contraceptives.
During Monday’s Tweetchat, panellists agreed that beyond using sexual education to teach young people about their bodies, it equips them with life skills that can help them develop into responsible adults that can contribute significantly to Nigeria’s development.
Mrs Bolaji said CSE ensures young people receive comprehensive, life skills-based sexuality education to gain the knowledge and skills to make conscious, healthy and respectful choices about relationships and sexuality.
This, however, must be accurate, non-judgemental, age-appropriate and culturally sensitive, according to Ms Ogunrotimi, a lawyer.
Ms. Usiobaifo shared how exposure to CSE at an early age helped her become a global health and development advocate.
“I am a beneficiary of Comprehensive Sexuality Education. The education produced in me an empowered and enlightened young female leader. I am therefore cascading this education to younger people via BHI,” she said.
In conclusion, the panellists maintained that viewing CSE as teaching young people to be promiscuous is wrong as reproductive health is just a small part of CSE.
“It equips them with important life skills they need to function as adults in a dynamic and fast-paced world.”
Participants in the conversation identified “the Family Life and HIV Education curriculum” developed by the Ministry of Education and other partners in 2003 as the only document that teaches CSE in school.
They also identified shortcomings in the restrictive nature of the contents, which they say is not being implemented by every school.
They, therefore, called for more proactive steps towards incorporating a more comprehensive and updated sexuality education for both in school and out of school young people according to international best practices and in a sustainable manner.
“Parents also need to update their knowledge of sexual and reproductive health and be bold enough to start the education of their children at home because if they don’t give them the correct information, they are likely to end up with the wrong information.”