In Kazakhstan, almost one third of young people aged 15 to 19 have sex. The indicator of adolescent pregnancy is 36 cases per one thousand girls, which is six times higher than the indicator in developed countries.
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This data is presented in the survey of the Public Opinion Research Centre regarding the reproductive health of adolescents in 2018. According to specialists, Kazakhstan does not have systemic sex education for adolescents at schools, which causes early pregnancy, growth in the number of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV among young people.
The survey was held in all the regions of the country with more than four thousand respondents aged 15 to 19. According to the survey, the average age of sexual debut is 16.5 years old.
Low awareness of HIV and STIs has been also observed among adolescents. Only 9 per cent of young people gave correct answers to all five questions about HIV/AIDS.
Two thirds of respondents do not know about prevention of unintended pregnancy. 2.4 per cent or 49 female respondents said they were pregnant, and 16.7 per cent of girls who were sexually active said the same.
14.8 per cent of sexually active Kazakhstanis aged 15-19 reported at least one of STI symptoms in the last 12 months. More than a half of them never turned for medical help.
Experts call this situation critical and stand for the availability of such information to young people.
Not propaganda of sex
In 2007, a pilot project was being implemented in South Kazakhstan region to introduce wellness at schools.
However, in 2010, the deputy of the lower house of parliament Aldan Smaiyl spoke out against the discipline that “describes all genitals both of girls and boys”. He said this subject should not be deeply studied, whereas children should be brought up according to moral values.
Now Kazakhstan has no single programme on sex education for children and adolescents. According to psychologist and founder of the sexual literacy school ‘Otkrovenny razgovor’ [Straight talk] Asel Shanazarova, educational institutions have no experts, while psychologists have different tasks. Therefore, gynaecologists are being sent to schools to provide some sex education.
“They usually hold classes separately for girls and discuss the medical aspects more: about the cycle, how to use personal hygiene products, AIDS and infections. It happens quite often that specialists sent to schools from akimats speak only about the moral part of the issue, as if girls are the only ones who are responsible,” Shanazarova said.
She is one of few specialists in Kazakhstan who teaches sexual literacy to adolescents and their parents for a fee. According to her, people ask her for help only after something extraordinary happens. For three years of practice, only one family turned to her for preventive consultation.
“In our society, there are people who think that sex education should be provided at schools, and there are people who think it is a shame. Now there are more people from the latter group. However, sex education is not just talks about sex or propaganda of sex. In the first place, sex education means literate attitude towards one’s own body, knowledge of changes taking place during puberty, knowledge of the opposite sex, ability to build relations with the opposite sex, ability to protect oneself, to avoid violence and to know safety measures,” the psychologist said.
According to the survey that studied the reproductive health of adolescents and young people aged 15-19, 44 per cent of respondents reported that have had more than one partner. If we compare this figure with 20 per cent of young people who have unsafe sex, the high indicator of adolescent pregnancy and HIV/AIDS becomes clear.
According to UNAIDS, Eastern Europe and Central Asia are the only regions in the world where HIV epidemic continues to grow fast, and the annual increase in new HIV cases was 57 per cent in 2010-2017. In 2018, more than 30 cases of HIV in first and second stages were detected among adolescents in Kazakhstan.
“Of three young people whose sexual debut was at the age of 15, two had no idea of infections and never used any forms of prevention of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections,” said the General Director of the Republican Centre on Prevention and Control of AIDS Bauyrzhan Baiserkin at the press conference in December 2018 (cited according to Informburo.kz).
Also, according to him, 700 cases of sexually transmitted infections were registered in adolescents in 2017. More than 17 per cent had syphilis, and 44 per cent had gonorrhoea.
Right to sex education
According to the research held by activist Karlygash Kabatova regarding sex education in the school education system, sex education is not covered by health and education programmes of Kazakhstan.
“The impression is that the culture of reproduction is needed only by adults. The authors of the national programme suggest motivating the younger generation for sports and promote healthy lifestyle in order to maintain their health. Therefore, adolescents are not deemed a risk group with sexual and reproductive issues, although the statistics of adolescent pregnancies and labour demonstrate that adolescents do need sex education and must be considered as a target group for events designed to improve reproductive health,” according to the research.
In 2010, Kazakhstan approved a five-year national programme of health development ‘Salamatty Kazakhstan’. The key objective was to improve the health system, which should have finally improved the public health records.
Among other things, it was designed to reduce infant and maternal mortality rates and to “stop the spread of HIV infection”. The case was to promote healthy lifestyle among young people, while the programme never mentioned sex education. Later on, the health development programme ‘Densaulyk’ was approved for 2016-2020, which purpose was to “promote health of people in order to steadily reach health indicators of 30 most developed countries in the world.” It also mentioned the promotion of healthy lifestyle and sports among young people, and reproductive health in terms of adults.
Last year, the ministry of health submitted the draft new code “On public health and health system” for consideration and caused furious public reaction. The document binds parents to vaccinate children, expands the list of post-mortem examination cases, and also provides for the right of children to sex education.
Some activists are dissatisfied with the clause about sex education, which allegedly corrupt the minds of young people. Now the document is under consideration of the lower house of parliament.
Karlygash Kabatova emphasised that it may be concluded from the existing state programmes that there is political will to introduce sex education in Kazakhstan, but sexual and reproductive health of young people, including adolescents, is not a priority.
She sees three options of further course of events in terms of sex education:
- Ignoring the subject, further suppression of the issue, lack of open discussion at the highest level can only worsen this complex situation.
- Restrictive model of sex education, in western literature – abstinence-based model. This approach uses the tactics of intimidation, artificial limit of sexual activity and expression, ignores issues of use of protection, etc.
- Introduction of a comprehensive course in sex education that provides reliable information to adolescents, teaches them life skills, positive attitudes and values.
The third option, in her opinion, is the most effective. As an example, Kabatova referred to Estonia, where sex education was introduced in 1996 as a compulsory course. It helped to reduce the rate of abortions among adolescents by 61 per cent and to reduce the number of new HIV, syphilis and gonorrhoea cases by more than 10 times.
Asel Shanazarova also supports the preventive method rather than the method of intimidation in sex education issues as intimidation and prohibitions by parents have a reverse effect on adolescents.
According to her, the first countries that introduced sex education back in the 60-70s of last century also underwent these stages – a wave of STIs, early pregnancies, sexual violence.
“These problems made the state introduce these programmes. Now western countries have managed to reduce the cases of adolescent pregnancies. Even if they have sex now, they protect themselves,” Shanazarova said.
Specialists recommend to work regularly with children both in the family and at schools in order to maintain their health and to avoid traumatic experiences.
Currently, sex education in Kazakhstan is covered by non-governmental organisations and personal initiatives of individuals. They train volunteers, hold meetings at schools, provide trainings in sexual and reproductive health among adolescents and in HIV prevention.
However, these measures are not regular and do not cover all educational institutions in the country. Therefore, experts insist on the need to introduce a special course to schools that contains full information.
Main photo: publika.md
Данный материал подготовлен в рамках проекта IWPR «Giving Voice, Driving Change — from the Borderland to the Steppes Project».