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Experts on why sex education is key to reducing gender-based violence

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Odewumi

Violence-based sexual offences have been on the rise in Nigeria. This year, several high-profile cases of rape and sexual violence have been recorded in the country, some involving students. In May, there was a public outcry over the rape and murder of Vera Uwa Omozuwa, a 22-year-old University of Benin undergraduate. Also, in June, 19-year-old Barakat Bello was raped and stabbed to death in Ibadan. She was a student of the Institute of Agriculture, Research and Training (IAR&T), Ibadan. In the same month, the Jigawa State Police Command arrested an 11-man gang for raping a 12-year old girl in the state. The men were said to have raped the victim on different occasions.

Since then, there have been other reported cases of violation of women and girls, especially little girls, in the country.

The country, recognising the challenge of sexual assault, declared an emergency on the menace in all the 36 states of the federation.

Similarly, a non-governmental organisation, “Piece of My Heart Foundation”, has called for more interventions, particularly from stakeholders in the education sector to stem the tide. The group said parents, educators and the government at all levels should ensure that male children are introduced to sex education early.

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The foundation faulted the general belief that only female children need sex education, saying this could probably be responsible for the upsurge in sexual violence in the country. It, therefore, charged all stakeholders to engage the male child and stop focusing only on the girl-child.

“Oftentimes, sex education focuses on girls, which has made our boys feel they don’t need the information and don’t have to accept responsibility for their actions. When sexual abuse happens, some parents silence the victim by not believing them or wanting to protect the abuser,” the body said.

Speaking on the issue, the Dean, School of Transport, Lagos State University (LASU), Prof. Samuel Odewumi, said the most effective and sustainable approach is to include sex education in the curriculum right from primary to the university level.

“It should be part of Social Studies at lower levels and in General Studies at higher level. But first, the teachers themselves must be taught the curriculum to handle the subject matter at both cognitive and affective domains. The course content will have areas specific to boys and those that relate to girls, while there will be common ground to both. While the inclusion of sex education would be the medium and long-term solutions to deal with sexual violence in the immediate, justice must be served for the culprits and the victims. Those arrested must face the law timely and transparently. There must be forms of compensation for the victims, besides punishment for the culprit. There must be public enlightenment on what to do when you are raped.  Tell them where to go to get sperm tested so that the case could be easily prosecuted.  DNA laboratories should be located conveniently and the services for rape made free.”

An education consultant, Julius Opara, making reference to UNESCO, said sex education is not just teaching the male or female child to identify parts of his or her body. It is an all-encompassing learning, he said, referred to as Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE). Opara said any standard public or private school should adopt the CSE guidelines to offer reliable information about sex education to students.

“Comprehensive sexuality education is a curriculum-based process of teaching and learning about the cognitive, emotional, physical and social aspects of sexuality. It aims at equipping children and young people with knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that would help them develop respectful social and sexual relationships; consider how their choices affect their own well-being, and that of others; as well as understand and ensure the protection of their rights. Therefore, to ensure male children get sex education to broaden their knowledge is simply to begin to advocate for the implementation of the CSE guidelines by both public and private schools,” Opara added.

The consultant noted that when implemented, male children would have learnt a lot about their health and well-being. He said applying a learner-centred approach would not only provide male children with age-appropriate and phased education on human rights, gender equality, relationships, reproduction, sexual behaviour risks and prevention of ill health, but also provide an opportunity to present sexuality with a positive approach, emphasising values such as respect, inclusion, non-discrimination, equality, empathy, responsibility and reciprocity.

“I have had parents asked me about the right time to begin to talk to their wards about sex education. Most of the time, I told them as soon as they noticed that the male child has started becoming modest and embarrassed about being naked in front of their parents, or when they start asking you questions about their body parts and body functions.”

He added that teaching the male child about respect for the opposite sex also helps to mould him into becoming a well-mannered gentleman. Opara emphasised that collective will to reduce sexual violence in the society is the ultimate solution to the problem.

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According to cdc.gov, a simple approach will be the STOPSV approach, which involves the promotion of social norms that protect against violence by encouraging bystanders to quickly report, be of help to victims and not just watch. This approach also supports the mobilisation of men and boys as advocates of preventing sexual and relationship violence and to become peer educators.

“The second is to teach skills that would help to prevent sexual violence in schools, such as social-emotional learning, teaching healthy, safe dating and intimate relationship skills to adolescents, promoting healthy sexuality, empowerment-based training and others.

“Third is to increase opportunities to empower and support male/female by strengthening economic supports for youth, families as well as leadership and opportunities for adolescents.

“The fourth solution to sexual violence is to create a protective environment by improving safety and monitoring in schools, establishing and consistently applying workplace policies to addressing community-level risks through environmental approaches, and finally, to support victims/survivors to lessen harm by developing victim-centred services, such as free treatment for victims of sexual violence, treatment for at-risk children and families to prevent problem behaviour, including sex offending.

Oni

Director, Standard Bearers School, Lagos, Modupe Oni, stressed the need to start sex education for children from primary five, when they begin to experience puberty. Oni said there’s a need to prepare both genders for life, and help them understand that life is a different journey from that of a child.

“I believe that it should be strengthened for both sexes. I believe that children should be made to understand that sex has its consequences. For many people, they think that the consequences of sex are getting AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases. But a medical doctor who once came to my school made it clear that the greatest disease that comes out of teenage sex is teenage pregnancy, and it scars the mother for life, because there’s a level of shame that comes with it. This can also scare a young man, knowing that he has to take responsibility for looking after a child early and being a father.”

Speaking on how to ensure male children grow up respecting the rights of women, particularly on sexual issues, Oni said youths need male role models to show them how to respect women. She tasked churches and mosques on the need to preach respect for the womenfolk, saying the more they hear the importance of respecting women, the more it starts becoming a lifestyle.

Oni underlined the importance of teaching youths about consent, making them understand that every woman has a right to her body, and that no man has the authority over it. She also advocated the arrest and prosecution of sexual offenders to dissuade perpetrators.

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Head Teacher, Heritage School, Ipaja, Adeyemi Victoria Omolola, said it is important to be open to male children regarding their opposite sex and let them know the consequence of sexual abuse and offences. Omolola said parents should also set certain examples by involving male children in house chores, while desisting from domestic violence. She, however, felt the education system is not in need of a new curriculum to address sex education. Rather, Oni said it must be instilled from young age through deliberate actions of parents and guardians.

Opara

She said: “Schools should also teach it, but not necessarily charting a new curriculum.

To get it done, we must put our words and discussion into action.”

A lecturer at Adeyemi College of Education, Ondo, Emmanuel Taiwo Akinola, said making sex education important for male children would assist in providing adequate direction for them, and warn them of consequences of involving in sex immorality, violence, rape and other vices.

Proprietress, Flourish Nursery and Primary School, Oluwabunmi Olawuyi, supports sex education, particularly for the male child. She said it would not only guide them to resist pressure from the opposite sex, but also enlighten them on the consequences of rape.

An official at Adeyemi College of Education, Mrs. K. A. Balogun, who specialises in the treatment of sexual issues, said considering the growing cases of rape, sexual violence and harassment, it is very essential for a male child to be educated on sexual education.

Balogun said sexual education would ultimately help the youth to understand how to practice healthy sexual behaviour, while unhealthy ones may lead to health and social challenges such as rape, sexual violence, harassment, unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

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