A report by the National Aids Control Council (NACC) is one that should worry us as a nation, especially in Nyanza. According to the report, 9,545 adolescents got infected by HIV/Aids in the four lake region counties in 2015, while 771 young people from the same counties died of Aids-related complications.
The four counties – Migori, Homa Bay, Kisumu and Siaya – accounted for 53 per cent of the total national new infections amongst adolescents aged between 10 and 19 years in the same year.
The report revealed that eight adolescents contract HIV every single day in Homa Bay, a county that has a higher prevalence rate at 25 per cent, much higher than the national of average of six per cent.
The report further revealed that nearly 50 per cent of all adolescents living with HIV in the country live in six counties, with the four from the lake region topping the list, followed by Nairobi and Mombasa.
What these findings expose is that teenagers all over the country are having sex from as early as the age of 10 years, leading not only to STIs, but early pregnancies.
The statistics may suggest that things are very bad in Nyanza, but this should be considered a national disaster. Non-governmental organisations and the civil society have identified this gap and developed a curriculum that seeks to inculcate sex education in our education system in primary and secondary schools. But this initiative has been opposed by some people in government and religious groups.
The Comprehensive Sexuality Education seeks to provide learners with age-appropriate, scientifically accurate, non-judgemental and culturally relevant information, coupled with opportunities to practice decision-making, communication and other skills needed to make informed decisions about their sexual and reproductive health.
Let us not kid ourselves. The problem is that parents do not sit down with their adolescent children to talk about their sexuality. Mothers do not even know when their teenage girls begin having their menses. Fathers are buying their sons phones to keep up with the digital age, but forget that these boys watch porn on the same phones and then try out what they’ve seen.
It is also an open secret that many parents have relegated the duty of raising their children to teaches – children stay in boarding schools and spend most of their teenage days interacting with teachers. It just follows that teachers are best-placed to guide the young ones on matters sexuality.
Young learners have a right to sexual and reproductive health information, which is much more than the reproductive science one learns in social studies and biology in primary and secondary schools. It is obvious that lack of information has led to vulnerability, unintended pregnancies that lead to abortions and STIs.
From my interviews with young girls, it’s clear that ignorance and myths are part of the problem. Many of the young girls revealed that their boyfriends always assure them that if thy pee immediately after sex, they would not get pregnant!
Others claimed that they have been told that having sex while standing could not lead to pregnancies. If these girls had been taught sex education, they would not fall for such falsehood.
Sex education can also help in developing positive values and attitudes, improving perceptions about peer groups and social norms, as well increasing communication between parents and their children.
Our young people face significant challenges to their sexual and reproductive health and this in turn hinders them from realising their full potential. Sex education can therefore reduce these vulnerable cases by building knowledge and skills that enable young people to reduce sexually risky behaviours.
The education system has a critical role to play and an opportunity to prepare learners for leading sexually healthy lives.