Comprehensive Sexuality Education in Nigeria: The Solution to Several Problems and their Drivers

Comprehensive-Sexuality-Education-2-a184a9c4

“The children are the leaders of tomorrow”. While this aphorism is undisputable, equal emphasis should be laid on the fact that the working-age citizens are the leaders of today. With 54.32% of the population aged between 15-65 years (Asomba, 2015), Nigeria is on a sojourn to an era of sustainable demographic dividends. But with the spike in vulnerability rates of both children and workers in the country, the end of that journey might be in a very bleak future. Several contemporary issues surrounding sex have become pivotal points of concern in the country’s quest to reduce these vulnerability rates. The core indices of the nation’s abysmally poor sexual and reproductive health and rights include; the high incidence rate of unsafe, primitive, cultural practices, the prevalence of HIV/STIs as well as the surge in unwanted pregnancy rate. These are pertinent issues that seeks thorough addressing. Not to be taken lightly is the fact that one major driver pilots this disheartening status-quo. Inadequate education on sexuality matters is the culprit in this discourse. Though, armed with several co-drivers, once this disturbing reality is addressed, Nigeria will be in sync with the world’s drive towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

It is paradoxical that although Nigerians boast of better civilization than other Africans, the practice of several unsafe and primitive cultural acts is still very much alive in the country. Early Child Marriage (ECM) is one of the rampant practices that causes a great deal of turmoil and damage in the nation. No matter how anyone tries to paint it, there is no light at the end of tunnel when the path of ECM is towed. Reports from the National Demographic and Health Survey highlight the rate of child marriage in the country to be as high as 76% in Northern Nigeria and 10% in the South-Eastern part (Envuladu et al., 2014). The worst part of it all is that, these girls are not only married off at a young age but also made to involve in sexual acts and reproduction before they complete puberty. Little wonder the fertility rate hovers around 122 live births per 1000 women for girls aged 15-19 years (Cortez et al., 2015). Also very daunting is the fact that this evil is not only perpetuated by the common man but, also, by some government officials. Just recently, the news of a senator marrying a 13 year-old girl came as a rude shock of reality to everyone with a sound reasoning mind. Wondering what an old man sees in an underage girl made me recall this phrase by Shakespeare, “Lord, what fools these mortals be”. The consequences of ECM and underage delivery includes depression, vesicovaginal and rectovaginal fistulae, suicidal tendencies as well as a potent limitation to the potentials of the girl-child.

Another side of this evil-cultural-practices coin is in the form of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), commonly regarded as female circumcision among locals. It is simply the act of removing the clitoris of a female person. It is, somewhat, a rite of passage into womanhood in most communities. A particularly stunning fact about Nigeria is that she is the FGM headquarter of the world. The national prevalence rate of FGM is 21% which amounts to 19.9 million circumcised Nigerian girls (Agbo, 2017), hence the title is well deserved. It is very disturbing that Nigeria has the highest absolute number of girls that have gone under the knife of this horrible procedure. The FGM imbroglio is deeply rooted in several cultures and due to Nigerians’ love for the old ways, it has remained a stiffening pain for a very long time. Proponents of this criminal practice posit that FGM helps to curb immorality and sexual lewdness of girls. However, studies carried out by several researchers negate this claim. According to an article published by the International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, circumcised women experience sexual arousal and orgasm as often as uncircumcised women (Emma, 2002). Facts that have been scientifically proven, however, gears towards the reckoning that FGM leads to recurrent episodes of urinary tract infections, procedural hemorrhage/shock, chronic pelvic infections, infertility, prolonged obstructed labor as well as psychological backlashes.

Furthermore, another major problem, which reckons for a fix, is the hike in the rate of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and other Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) in the country. ‘Dismayed’ is an understatement for describing the way I felt when I realized that Nigeria has the second highest rate of people living with HIV in the world. ‘Not a phase of relief’ is the moment I discovered that the rates of Gonorrhea, Candidiasis and Trichomoniasis infections are 28.3%, 10.9% and 9.8% respectively in the country (Ogunbajo, 2010). Statistics have shown that women are more susceptible to STIs probably due to the receptive nature of their sexual organs, their major position at the receiving end of rape/sexual assault and their status of having lesser say in matters bordering on their sexuality. A common saying goes thus, “there is never a smoke without a fire”. Therefore, with the high rate of rape, sexual assault and unsafe consented sex, the concomitant rise in the HIV/STIs rate should not come as a surprise. A justification for this rate can be acknowledged in the fact that Lagos state recorded a total sum of 678 reported cases of rape in the year 2013 (Ogbo, 2013). This index has risen exponentially over the years. Also, the poor knowledge of contraceptives use and the inadequate access to them among Nigerian youths are key players in the predominance of STIs in the country. Most girls and women cannot walk into a pharmacy store to buy condoms because they fear they may be tagged ‘loose and cheap’ by onlookers. They prefer to have unprotected sex while banking on the partner’s ability to withdraw. They do this without taking into cognizance, the towering risk of STIs associated with this contraceptive method. Even worst, is the reality that some group of young people do not know about this relatively common method of contraception. A survey carried out in the Karu LGA of Nasarawa state, showed that only 16% of adolescents, resident therein, had knowledge about the withdrawal method of contraception (Cortez et al., 2015). Indeed the surge of HIV/STIs is a daredevil that has reared its ugly head over our beloved country.

From a random sampling of opinions I carried out in Ibadan, majority of teenage girls consider unwanted pregnancy as a greater terror than infection with HIV and other STIs. Unwanted pregnancy can result from several scenarios like rape, lack of contraception, etc. Teenage pregnancy takes a higher proportion of these incidences of unwanted pregnancy. Studies have shown the prevalence of teenage pregnancy to be 23% in the west, 36% in the southwest and 26% in the North central part of the country (Envuladu et al., 2014). Unintended pregnancy can also arise from the lack of proper family planning. The issue of unwanted/unintended pregnancy is a big one that has both direct and indirect effects on the growth and development of the economy of any nation. First and foremost, in the case of teenage pregnancy, it inevitably leads to dropout of girls from school. Reports have pegged the dropout rate of school-girls at 16% (Omo-Aghoja, 2013). After such devastating experience, these girls are left with two options; keep the baby or abort it! Either way, it, many a time, never ends well. If the girl goes for the former decision, she, most times, faces the risk of unsafe delivery at the hands of crude women posing as midwives and nurses because she cannot afford the conventional hospital delivery payment, or the risk of giving birth by Caesarean session because her underdeveloped pelvic muscles cannot handle the stress of labor. If she cannot afford this operational procedure, both the baby and the mother can end up dead. Assuming the girl goes for the latter choice, she is usually at the mercy of quack health workers because abortion is illegal in Nigeria. With abortion, comes a sequelae of unhealthy conditions which can eventually lead to death. As for the cases of unintended pregnancy occurring in families across the country, they, in conjunction with teenage pregnancy, increase the rate of the country’s dependent population by increasing the number of live births per year. In a country like Nigeria where the population is on the verge of getting out of hand, that situation is a threatening reality.

As earlier suggested, ignorance about the topic, ‘sexuality’, is the major driver of the poor condition of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) amongst young persons in Nigeria. Most adolescents and, even, adults in the country cannot boast of adequate knowledge of the workings of their bodies, how to ensure optimal sexual/reproductive health and what the constitution says about their sexual/reproductive rights. This entire process of being inculcated with partial knowledge of SRHR or the lack thereof, started from childhood and hence, the intricacy of how this happens must be discussed fully. The associated co-drivers of ignorance can be found in three major entities in the life of the Nigerian child; Self, Family and School.

It all starts with the faulty African mentality, of relegating the opinions and feelings of the child to the background, which most parents/elders possess. From an early age, they are taught to listen and not be heard, to see and not be seen. It is quite obvious that, compared to the Western child, the opinion of the African child is usually not considered in several matters, and their feelings, not regarded. This, in the long-run, builds up feelings of resentment and attitudes of seclusion in the child. The long-term effect of this kind of exclusion comes to light when the child starts withholding sensitive information and questions from the parents/elders. Most children experience puberty with absolutely no idea of what is happening to their bodies, why it is happening and how to handle the turn of events (UNESCO, 2014). Are they frightened about these events? Yes, of course! Will they confront their parents demanding for explanation? Not a chance! Who do they turn to? The media, and their peers, for those who cannot afford smartphones or television. Most times, the information they derive from these sources are not comprehensive enough or just blatantly wrong. Case and point, the unhealthy practices most kids adopt from pornography. Another major way the media propagates poor understanding of the subject of sex is by glorifying only its good side and not talking about its bad aspect. The feeling of exclusion is a terrible sensation that no modern child should experience.

When ‘self’ fails a child with curious mind, he/she shuns all the feelings of resentment bottled up towards the parents/elders and thus, seeks help from the family. This is expected to be a good twist of the plot but really, it is not! The parents are usually very busy with their jobs, businesses or farms. Therefore, little or no attention is given to the worries of the child. This is strangely bizarre, considering that most Nigerian children/teenagers are vulnerable to sexual assaults due to the kind of exposure hawking of goods, on the dangerous streets of the country, offers. The few parents that actually listen, somehow, ends up shutting the child up or just giving silly excuses to avoid the discussion. The cultural taboo surrounding the topic of sex in Nigeria is the major reason why most parents cannot have meaningful and engaging conversations about sex with their children (Nyoko, 2014). Even if the ‘sex talk’ taboo and parent’s busy schedule does not interfere with the entire process of sex education, the low level of knowledge about sexuality on the part of the parents is a real issue. Well, they cannot take all the blame considering the fact that, they were once kids who could not get enough information from their parents as well. This continuous cycle of ignorance goes on. After the family fails the child, it marks the end of the entire journey of seeking for detailed information by him/her, save for some selected few, who turn all their hopes to the School.

A saddening reality is the fact that there are very few schools with working methodologies of sex education in Nigeria (Akwei, 2017). These schools are majorly reserved for the elite. An average public school in Nigeria does not have Comprehensive Sex Education (CSE) in its curriculum, it only has few topics that breach the issue of sexuality. These topics do not do enough justice to the wide array of discussions surrounding sex. In 2016, when the curriculum was last reviewed, it came as an utmost dismay to me that CSE was not introduced. With the various problems associated with sex in the nation, one would think the ministry of basic and secondary education would go back to the drawing board and carve a niche for sex education in the curriculum. But alas, it did not! Since the ministry has failed us, it is expected that the leaders of the schools give the government a nudge to do their duties. This expectation has been met with grave disappointment because the bureaucracy involved with altering government policies in Nigeria is rather disturbing. So, most school officials prefer retaining the curriculum without CSE to involving themselves in a never-ending streak of paperwork. Most teachers in these schools realize the deficiency of the curriculum and they do their best to, at least, sensitize the kids about certain issues bordering on sex but they fail, most times, to achieve the kind of success they have in mind. This is, majorly, due to a number of factors; their wrong approach to the subject, their myopic viewpoints on certain controversial issues and the unavailability of basic technologies to source for reliable information to teach these kids. These basic technologies consists of phones, tablets, laptops, proper internet access/low data tariffs and even, adequate electricity to power these devices. The provision of these technologies in schools might seem quite irrelevant relative to other shortcomings of the Nigerian standard of education. However, little developments like this can go a long way in averting major disastrous outcomes.

With so many changes that we seek resting on the shoulders of Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE), we must first understand what CSE truly means before we can implement it. According to the World Health Organization, CSE is a planned and sequential curriculum that is part of a comprehensive school health education approach which addresses age-appropriate physical, mental, emotional and social dimensions of human sexuality. Simply put, CSE is an organized method of educating youngsters on how to make decisions concerning their sexuality that will not leave them vulnerable to coercion, STIs and unintended pregnancy. The United National Population Fund suggests that CSE enables young people protect their health, well-being and dignity. CSE takes into account the fact that no matter how hard we try to avoid it, teenagers will still have sex. Therefore, it does not only encourage teaching of abstinence value but also several contraceptive methods e.g. the use of condoms, pills etc. It also sensitize young people to the holistic care for their sexual health, their sexuality rights and in general, gives them a broad view of their sexuality. Adopting New Zealand’s CSE system model, which includes basic defense skills training in order to protect against sexual assault, should be part of our priorities. In addition, it will be of great benefit if we can adopt the knowledge-dominant, value-dominant, conciliatory and conflict-aware CSE from countries with brilliant systems (Mukoro, 2017). With this kind of CSE system in place, the children and teenagers of today will grow up to become knowledgeable parents and elders of tomorrow, who can, not only take care of themselves sexually but also, transfer the knowledge down to their kids/wards. Although, the introduction of CSE in Nigeria will be met with resistance from conservative groups, especially in the North, the government and schools should not relent in their efforts to enforce this necessary change.

In conclusion, the government should know that they cannot win the battle against ignorance alone. They should partner with non-government organizations (NGOs), religious bodies, schools, health workers and other private entities in order to ensure a joint effort in providing CSE, which will in turn, scale down the incidence of FGM, ECM, HIV, other STIs and unwanted pregnancy in the country. Breast and cervical cancer awareness, being an added advantage. The end results of this collaboration are numerous, the totality of which is ensuring good health and wellbeing of Nigerians vis-à-vis decreasing the mortality rate of the working population as well as reducing the dependency ratio by a limitation in the birth rate of the country. I truly believe that although, the latter effect may seem like an interference with the natural course of things, it is a perfect strategy for ensuring economic growth in this period of ballooning population. A trip to China will make you a believer too!

 Reference

Agbo D. (2017, November 30). ‘20m Nigerian women are victims of genital mutilation’. Vanguard Newspaper. Retrieved from https://www.vanguardngr.com/2017/11/20m-nigerian-women-are-victims-of-genital-mutilation/.

Akwei I. (2017, August 15). Nigerians are divided on the introduction of the comprehensive sex education (CSE) curriculum in schools to give students an understanding of their sexuality. Retrieved from http://www.africanews.com/2017/08/15/sex-education-in-schools-sparks-debate-conservative-nigeria//.

Asomba I. (2015, August 27). 2050 Population Explosion: Is Nigeria ready for 397 million people. Vanguard. Retrieved from https://www.vanguardngr.com/2015/08/2050-population-explosion-is-nigeria-ready-for-397-million-people/.

Cortez R., Saadat S., Edmore M., Odutolu O. (2015). Adolescent sexual and reproductive health in Nigeria. Geneva, Switzerland: World Bank Group.

Emma Y. (2002. September 24). Female Circumcision does not reduce sexual activity. Daily News. Retrieved from https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn2837-female-circumcision-does-not-reduce-sexual-activity/.

Envuladu E.A, Agbo H.A, Ohize V.A, Zoakah A.I (2014). Determinants and Outcome of Teenage Pregnancy in a Rural Community in Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria, Sub-Saharan African Journal of Medicine, 1(1):47-52.

Mukoro J. (2017). Sex Education in Nigeria: When Knowledge Conflicts with Cultural Value. American Journal of Educational Research, 5 (1), 69-75

Nyoko, M. (2014, February 3). Why African parents can’t talk about sex. Retrieved from https://thisisafrica.me/why-african-parents-cant-talk-about-sex/.

Ogbo P. (2013, April 15). Lagos Records 678 Rape Cases in One Year. Retrieved from https://theeagleonline.com.ng/lagos-record-678-rape-cases-in-one-year/.

Ogunbajo B.O (2010). Sexually transmitted diseases in Nigeria: A review of the present situation. West Afr J Med, 8 (1):42

Omo-Aghoja L. (2013). Sexual and reproductive health: Concepts and current status among Nigerians. Afr J Med Health Sci, 12 (13), 103.

UNESCO (2014). Puberty Education & Menstrual hygiene Management. Paris, France: United Nation Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization.


Like
Like Love Haha Wow Sad Angry
Did you enjoy this story? Then pay a tip to subscribe to their email list and get premium, exclusive content from them




What do you think?

%d bloggers like this: