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Uganda: Church’s protest delays bid for sexuality education in schools

KAMPALA. Government is still consulting religious leaders for their input before introduction of the controversial sexuality education policy which is intended to provide guidelines on teaching materials and information in schools.

The consultations followed protests from the Church, an instrumental player in provision of education services, that the pending framework on the policy in its current form would not be allowed in their schools unless the cited contentious issues have been adequately addressed.

Mr Ismail Mulindwa, the Commissioner for Private Schools in Ministry of Education and coordinator of the National Sexuality Education framework, told Daily Monitor that they expected to conclude discussions with religious leaders by this month.

“We are still consulting the religious leaders on the sexuality education framework. They are our biggest partners in education. The schools we are going to are theirs.

They raised some concerns and we have to listen,” Mr Mulindwa said.

The framework was launched in May last year to equip learners with information and skills that will help them in the latter years of their lives.

The content is classified into five categories depending on the age differences.

The content includes teaching children about sex and other related knowledge.

However, its content triggered protests from both Catholic and Anglican leadership who said some provisions of the policy will promote sexual immorality among the learners and destroy the core Christian and family values.

The Catholic Church and Church of Uganda are concerned that introducing sexuality education to a three-year old child as proposed by government is not right.

The Church is also questioning how implementation and monitoring of the content will be managed.

The plenary of Assembly of Catholic Bishops issued a statement saying while they appreciate a positive, age appropriate, culturally and religious sex education which upholds moral and Christian values, their input had not been sought in the final sexuality education document.

The Catholic clerics pointed out that under the contested policy, the role of the family is not considered especially in the early years while children in pre-primary will be exposed to content and life skills that are not appropriate for their age.

The church also said the messages prepared for the higher levels of education are liable to individual interpretation which could expose the children to vulnerability which unscrupulous agents might take advantage of to advance their own immoral agenda.

“Should the National Sexuality Education Framework remain unchanged, with provisions and directives contrary to our Christian values, the common position of the Catholic church, shared by our brother of the Church of Uganda and the Orthodox church, is that we shall not be able in conscience to have it introduced and taught in our Christian-founded schools,” Gulu Archbishop John Baptist Odama, the then chairperson of the Uganda Episcopal Conference, said in the June statement.
The policy introduces children aged three to sexuality education as long as they are in a school setup.

This is the first level that considers early childhood which has been grouped between the ages of three to five.

Here, the ministry expects a child to know their body parts, why boys and girls have unique sexual organs, unacceptable forms of body touch and importance of proper nutrition.

The government officials contend that a child at this stage will develop herself/himself awareness, refusal and communicative skills to be responsible citizens.

Primary One to Four pupils aged between six and nine will be taught puberty; why some body parts are considered private;

what pregnancy is and dangers of teenage pregnancy; where and when to report unacceptable body touch.

The policy says children will appreciate the importance of staying virgin and having self-control and be able to refuse negative influence of the media and peers on one’s sexuality.

Besides, the ministry argues that the children will know the types of love and differentiate them from lust

The policy intends to teach children to understand the time to become a father or mother, what HIV/Aids is and what sexually transmitted diseases are and how they can be acquired.

The third stage is for young adolescents aged 10 to 12 in upper primary — primary five and six.

The policy is expected, according to the ministry, to define what one’s purpose in life is, maintain personal hygiene during puberty, set boundaries to keep away from all forms of sexual activity, commit to sexual abstinence and recognise how bad influence can destroy one’s self esteem.

The framework further seeks to teach the children about misconceptions and misinformation about virginity and sexual abstinence.

The messages are further developed to suit the next level from Senior One to Senior Four students who are aged between 13 and 16 while the last stage will cater for A-Level and tertiary institutions with students aged above 17.

While launching the State of Uganda Population report 2018, the Speaker of Parliament, Ms Rebecca Kadaga, raised a red flag about the country’s population growth rate.

“I am a bit worried about the rate of population growth in this country. I do not know whether you have the same experience as I have.

If you go in the rural areas, you find that the children are four times the number of adults.

I keep asking myself, do we have schools for these children? I don’t think we do. We need to go back on the drawing board,” Ms Kadaga said.

Speaker’s reservations on population
“I looked at the report and thought it was a mistake.

There is a part where children between ages of 10 and 17 have ever been married.

I thought it was a mistake in my district, but I looked at Masaka, Karamoja and they have it. We have captured it as government. Are those children? Are those adults? They are there in every district.

They are neither children nor adults. Are they going to school? We need to look at that,” she added.

Dr Jotham Musinguzi, the Director General of National Population Council, said they would prioritise family planning.

The Uganda Bureau of Statistics data shows the country’s population stood at 34.6 million by 2016 resulting from high fertility of 5.8 children per woman.

It is projected to grow at an annual average of three per cent.

“There is going to be a shift in how we do things. We are going to prioritise family planning. We must go to where majority of Ugandans live and that is rural areas,” Dr Musinguzi said.

However, he said religious leaders have not yet accepted family planning among the youth, adding that the National Population Council is still engaging the clerics to encourage them to support adoption of contraceptives.

“These young people should not be involved in sexual activities at this time.

The best way is to give them information so that they protect themselves. Government is not pushing for any particular contraceptives for underage people.

We also know that those young people are already adolescents. They are sexually active.

We are going to make sure that they don’t only have information but can have services as well,” Dr Musinguzi said.

He added: “I am aware that the country has not necessarily agreed on some of these issues. The religious leaders are still objecting but we are still discussing with them so that they are brought on board.

If people are sexually active and you are a government and you don’t give them information and don’t give them services, what are you leaving them to do?”

Although the Ministry of Health initially proposed to have children as young as 10 years old access family planning services to reduce teenage pregnancies, recently they reviewed their position and encouraged adolescents to abstain from sex.

“There is need to focus efforts on delaying sex debut and increasing contraceptive use among sexually active adolescents.

All adolescents are eligible for the health services. Increase age-appropriate information, access, and use of family planning among young people aged between 10 and 24 years,” reads the document titled ‘National Policy Guidelines and Service Standards for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights.’

The document was the fourth edition of the 2016 policy of the Ministry of Health funded by development partners, civil society and implementing partners. However, the ministry’s Director General of Health Services, Dr Henry Mwebesa, told journalists recently that: “We do not encourage children below 18 years to get contraceptives.”

Last year, Saturday Monitor revealed that 100 schools had been introduced to teaching disguised homosexuality through an unauthorised curriculum dubbed:

“The World Starts With Me.”
The curriculum was introduced through a computer-based comprehensive sexuality education curriculum which was developed in 2003 by Butterfly Works and World Population Foundation (WPF) in collaboration with SchoolNet Uganda, young people, teachers and artists in Uganda.

Target
The curriculum targeted secondary school students and their teachers. For instance, it portrayed homosexuality and masturbation as fulfilling sexual habits among people who have consented and one way of controlling unwanted teenage pregnancies and early marriages.

“People can also feel attracted to the same sex or both sexes. If this lasts a long time, they might be homosexuals. People are homosexual not by choice but by birth.

However, if a boy forces a boy to have sex with him or a girl forces a girl to have sex with her, this is not homosexual but sexual abuse,” the curriculum document reads in part.

The document was later disowned by the Ministry of Education and National Curriculum Development Centre.

The matter also triggered criticism from President Museveni who discouraged the teaching of sex education in schools.
Mr Mulindwa said the National Sexuality Education framework seeks to address these challenges once it’s concluded.

What is in the framework?

The National Sexuality Education framework contends that the content is aimed at protecting children because they are exposed to different forms, frequencies and levels of physical, emotional and sexual violence in their homes and at school as early as at a tender age of less than five. It states that children aged between three and five years also engage in exploratory sexual play that may include gender roles and behaviours.

At ages six to nine, there is likelihood of more exposure to sexual gender-based violence, ICT and media, the ministry’s document contends.

These reports and rising teenage pregnancy rate currently at 25 per cent have continued to worry government with various agencies proposing different measures for redress.

By daily Monitor

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