“Youth root for sexual reproductive health education in schools.” | Taken from the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation
Under the Child Enabling Environments initiative, we ask students a variety of questions to assess areas of safety and security from a bio-psycho-social perspective. An emerging area of concern for both children and stakeholders is regarding sexual and reproductive health and well-being.
Kenyan schools are coping with the adverse effects of inadequate sexuality education policies. Students are being exposed to early and unplanned pregnancies, a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS, the spread of STIs, and incorrect usage of contraception – all things that could be mitigated through comprehensive sexuality education (CSE).
Under the extended scope of the UNCRC, children and adolescents have the right to receive sexual and reproductive health information, education, and services in accordance with their specific needs. Despite barriers to accessibility of educational environments, schools are a universal setting to inform children about sexuality education. The introduction of CSE in schools is a key component in a multifaceted approach to address the need for sexual and reproductive health concerns amongst a youthful population in Kenya.
The UNESCO defines CSE as a curriculum-based process of teaching and learning about the cognitive, emotional, physical and social aspects of sexuality. The goal is to equip children with an understanding of their rights, and introduce knowledge, skills, attitudes and values. Therefore, empowering them to realize their health, well-being and dignity; develop respectful relationships; and consider how their choices affect the well-being of themselves and others. Age-appropriate CSE gradually introduces information consistent with the changing developmental capacities of students.
Although the Kenyan government signed a declaration affirming a "good quality" CSE curriculum would be implemented before 2016. Kenya also indicated their commitment to CSE through their contributions to the implementation of SDG 4 (inclusive and equitable quality education). The Kenya Ministry of Health National Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Policy advocates for children's right to age-appropriate CSE. These promises have all yet to be fulfilled, as regional policies have promoted abstinence only-approaches, which lacks comprehensive information about human development, anatomy, pregnancy and STIs.
A UNESCO report revealed a disconnect between Kenya's teachers and students' expectations. 75% of teachers reported instructing on CSE programme topics, but 2% of students reported learning the material. Only 20% of students were knowledgeable about types of contraception and even fewer were informed on usage and accessibility. Studies discovered Kenyan students receive fear-inducing or judgmental messages, emphasizing sex as dangerous and immoral for young people.
UNESCO notes positive outcomes of CSE. Sexuality education does not increase sexual activity, sexual risk-taking behaviours or STI/HIV infection rates. Strong evidence concludes that curriculum-based sexuality education programs contribute to delayed initiation of sexual intercourse, decreased frequency of sexual partners, deduced risk taking, and increased use of contraception. Evidence also indicates that gender-focused programmes provide a more holistic intervention, by addressing cultural and gender norms; and gendered issues about sexuality.
According to the UNFPA, nearly 378,400 adolescent girls in Kenya became pregnant between June 2016 to June 2017. Alex Awiti, Vice Provost of the Aga Khan University, expands on the issues in his article; noting the intergenerational health and socioeconomic consequences of adolescent pregnancies. While lack of information is one of the many intersecting factors leading to adolescent pregnancy, provision of CSE is a viable solution.
Children will learn about sexuality regardless – either from the media, friends, parents, or school. These channels may not provide accurate information, consequently leading to uninformed decision-making. School-based CSE programs that focus on empowerment, human rights, gender and empowerment, have been shown to improve knowledge and self-confidence; positively change attitudes and gender norms; strengthen decision-making and communication skills; build self-efficacy; and decease "risky" behaviours among children. All available data indicates the need for age-appropriate sexuality education as part of the school curriculum. Access to holistic, scientifically correct information about sexuality will contribute to overcoming sexual and reproductive health challenges that are a key issue for Kenyan children.
Kristin Swardh is an EAI Research Assistant, conducting research on child enabling environments in Kenya