Lagging development: Social barriers hindering education on sensitive issues

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Most parents and teachers are reluctant to discuss sensitive issues with children and inform them about the physical and emotional aspects of puberty, pushing them to seek information from unreliable sources, said Lifeline NGO Chief Executive Omar Aftab on Saturday.

Quoting findings of a baseline study during a news conference, Aftab said over 100 million of Pakistan’s youth suffer from lack of information. He added no efforts have been made to educate them about their basic rights, exposing them to exploitation.

He said the study’s objective was to gauge and assess the level of understanding key stakeholders had about adolescent and youth sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR).

Aftab maintained the study was based on nine districts. Adolescents, parents, teachers, politicians, prominent religious leaders, EDOs, district managers for population welfare departments and NGO representatives were the targets.

The organisation also conducted a review of the Learning Needs Assessment of the Life Skill Based Education (LSBE) course. The LSBE course imparts basic knowledge to adolescents to help them cope with physiological, psychological, political and social changes in their lives. Lifeline’s review revealed 83.3% and 74.7% students have reported an increase in knowledge and change in thinking, respectively, due to the course.

Teachers and students suggested that instead of teaching the same course to all students between 12 and 17 years, a more step-wise approach should be taken, with the level and extent of information increased as students get older. Lifeline claimed educating teachers was of paramount importance, so that misconceptions regarding reproductive anatomy and physiology are removed.

“Our religion does not forbid us from discussing or imparting proper guidance to our children,” said Aftab. He said the problem emitted from centuries old rites and customs. “The issue should not be labelled a socially proscribed topic, and parents – especially in middle and lower middle classes – should discuss these issues with their children.”

The most interesting result of the study was that 85.3% girls, 94.6% boys and 99% of all politicians, teachers, journalists and religious leaders endorsed the idea of teaching SRHRs in schools, claimed Aftab

Aftab said change will only come about if cultural misconceptions were addressed by proper Islamic principles, which provided guidance on emotional and physiological aspects of puberty, peer pressure, birth spacing, intimacy, relationships and gender-based violence.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 31st, 2013.