Kyrgyzstan has no sex education at schools except for extracurricular activities, which are poorly supervised by the management. Adolescents are told about the reproductive system in biology and anatomy classes, but there are no classes devoted to relationships between sexes.
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Meanwhile, the country faces the increase in the number of early pregnancies and abortions compared to previous year. This is evidenced by statistical data. However, this data is not always show the real picture, according to specialists. Some patients terminate their pregnancy in private medical centres, which can “conceal” any interventions.
Non-profit organisations and some activists trying to speak “about it” to children and adolescents often encounter aggression and obstacles. Moreover, the word “sex” is considered an improper word.
According to the head of NGO “Alliance of human reproductive health” Galina Chirkina, once the public hears words “sex education”, they always get nervous. But the term “sex education” [in Russian phrases “seksualnoye obrazovanie” and “polovoye vospitanie” have the same meaning, i.e. “sex education”] does not cause this reaction.
She noted that the schools of Kyrgyzstan have not had preventive programmes financed by donors for five years already. It had its impact on schoolchildren who became adolescents in these five years and do not have any information in this field.
“This is a sad situation because these guys are about to become adults, and they will have their sex experience and they will have a lot of myths and stereotypes regarding pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, HIV/AIDS. We are already reaping the fruits of adolescent pregnancies among 12-13-year-old girls. 14-year-old boys are diagnosed with gonorrhoea and syphilis. Teachers and parents cannot help it,” Chirkina said.
Threat to family values
There have been many opponents to “sex education” at schools of Kyrgyzstan at different periods. In 2013, NGO “Alliance of human reproductive health” issued a brochure dedicated to sex education of young people. A few organisations opposed the brochures, including the Russian Orthodox Church, Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kyrgyzstan, and think-tank “Religion, Law and Politics” led by theologian Kadyr Malikov.
They turned to the leadership of the country and law-enforcement bodies and demanded that such literature be banned as it “undermines the moral values of young people, family values and can threaten the gene pool of the nation in the longer term.”
A year later, President Almazbek Atambaev signed the law “On reproductive rights of citizens and guarantees of their enforcement”. At the same time, the ministry of education and science together with the ministry of health presented the “Manual for teachers on out-of-school work with 6-11th graders on healthy lifestyle”. It was developed jointly with international partners and included the issues of moral and sex education among adolescents.
According to Kadyr Malikov, the brochures issued in 2013 caused many disputes as they allegedly contained elements promoting sex relationships between adolescents. He noted that everything depends on the way information is submitted, which should be as neutral as possible.
“In Islam, there is sex education with special delivery tools. There are topics, whose discussion requires that boys and girls be apart to avoid any discomfort and to get as much information as possible. Religion does not limit the knowledge,” Malikov said.
Thus, the frenzy around the brochures faded away gradually and instead came extra-curricular activities using the textbooks provided by the ministry of education. The agency admitted they needed such textbooks badly. However, no one thought of their publication earlier.
“When the ministry of health said that children don’t know elementary things such as sanitation and personal hygiene, they decided to introduce elective courses in the form of a game and awareness raising. They were first introduced into school curricula in 2014. They were introduced as class activities that take 10 hours a year,” Gulshan Abdyldaeva, chief specialist of the Office of preschool, school and out-of-school education, said.
According to her, some points of these elective courses were included into compulsory subjects such as biology, basic life safety, man and society. Moreover, health agencies hold preventive classes for schoolchildren once a month. However, specialists doubt such classes are efficient.
“It’s not possible to check the efficiency of such education. The country does not have any separate integrated state programme. I support some conservatives who oppose sex education. As long as it has its current form, I’ll be protesting against it. I think we need the generation of young people who are aware of how to be healthy and how to protect themselves,” Galina Chirkina said.
According to Kadyr Malikov, implementation of the sex education for adolescents project should be monitored by the state, but the current system is not the best approach.
“We have found out that extra-curricular activities are held by volunteers from senior school who tell about sex. This practice is certainly destructive. I think school curricula should contain ethics and aesthetics, when teachers will tell about interpersonal relations and traditional values. It is important and relevant to talk to adolescents about modern diseases and premarital relations, and also about ethics and morals,” Malikov said.
According to him, all classes should be held by teachers and specialists.
With the emergence of internet, there’s virtually no need for first-hand information. If young people want to find out anything about intimate things, the last person they will go to will be either a doctor or a teacher. It’s easier to ‘google’ the question they want to ask as they will get the answer immediately. However, not everything that can be found on forums is true.
A Bishkek-based gynaecologist Chinara Duishenova started her blog in social media a few years ago. She covers topics related to sex, as well as methods of treatment and prevention of reproductive diseases.
“I do not cover sex topics, but I speak about women’s health, which means sex life, and I am trying to convey truthful information clearly,” Duishenova said.
According to her, the female reproductive health indicators decrease every year. Young people start sex life earlier, but do not know about the methods of contraception and often do not undergo regular check-ups.
“Recently, I had an 18-year-old female patient who had had massive pelvic inflammatory disease for one year. When I asked her when she started her sexual life, she said she was 15. […] And based on the issues she had, she rarely used contraceptives. Such girls come to us in three or four years as they have problems with getting pregnant,” the gynaecologist said.
According to her, some adolescents seek help as a last resort, when they have advanced stage of a disease. And this is the result of no sex education. Parents find it difficult to answer such awkward questions and they either avoid or keep silent about this topic. Teachers at schools are not courageous enough to answer some sensitive questions and leave children and adolescents alone with their questions.
Sex education is not an obstacle to the set of mind
According to experts, sex education should be closely connected with social processes that happen around children and adolescents. First of all, it concerns prevention of violence. In Kyrgyzstan, people prefer not to touch the topics of privacy and sexual integrity because they are “uyat” (“shame” from Kyrgyz). And the victims of sexual abuse can be even shamed for their allegedly inappropriate behaviour, which makes the victims not tell about their trauma for many years.
“If a girl was taught to know her body at school or at home, she wouldn’t be ashamed to tell that a man tried to go after or rape her. She wouldn’t be afraid of telling about it to her mother, who would seek some legal aid. However, everything is justified by the word “uyat” here. We silence our own children and don’t let them have quality support from adults,” Chirkina said.
Sex education classes can harm the child’s psychological health and sound like a call for action – this is the key argument of the opponents to having this education at schools. However, in practice, the principle of silencing doesn’t have positive impact and the younger generation gets knowledge about sexual life from anywhere.
Main photo: thehealthsite.com
This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project.