It’s essential to educate and involve children in sexuality and family planning.
For one thing, the reality is that vast numbers of children are literally left ‘holding the baby’! The larger the family the more likely it is that children are providing a lot of the childcare. This can be positive and can be made more so when the role is informed, praised and supported (which is usually isn’t).
Children and adolescents today are faced with many pressures and conflicting messages about how to manage their sexuality and by implication, ‘family planning’. The rise of social media use by children and young people is likely to make these pressures even greater.
To address this every country needs a comprehensive strategy for sexual and reproductive health and HIV education for children and adolescents, in and out of school. In countries where many children leave school altogether after the primary school years, there is a need for a robust approach to tackling this.
A comprehensive strategy needs to include clear and factual content about puberty, friendship, gender, sexuality, pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, HIV and AIDS and drug and alcohol use – and of course, family planning is a part of all these topics.
In addition, educators need to employ participatory methods to engage and empower children and adolescents to help them understand themselves and their world. They need to ensure the young people reflect upon and practice the skills needed to develop caring and loving relationships, make good decisions, solve problems and seek help when needed. This means that educators need to be using a life skills’ approach and include opportunities for children and young people to talk openly and honestly without fear of rebuke within safe learning settings.
Over the years and often linked to HIV and AIDS (that brought sexual and reproductive health education much higher up the agenda) many countries developed high-quality toolkits and other resource materials for educators and trainers. One outstanding series that I was closely involved with is the ‘our Future series’ co-created by the International Aids Alliance. This was co-created with educators in Zambia. There are linked to the books in the series in the resources section at the bottom of this post.
However good the materials, there are still significant barriers facing the delivery of a good programme and these can include:
- The lack of time given to the scheduling of these topics in primary school.
- The lack of confidence and lack of knowledge among educators.
- Educators making mistakes in the delivery of the materials putting them at odds with school policy and/or the parent bodies.
- Fears of recriminations from parents in the more conservative contexts.
- The lack of capacity among the teacher trainers at training colleges and those involved in in-serve teacher training.
- Parents lack of confidence to have conversations about sexuality at home and particularly when the dynamics and shape of families do not demonstrate received wisdom.
And there are many more!
We are in the process of designing sets of short messages that could form the backbone of stimulating more quality work in this area. Our messages will be designed for primary school aged children to learn and share. As with all our messages, they are designed as gateways into conversations and further activities that children and young people can have with each other and with their parents. See our 100 Messages here.
Meanwhile here are some of the best resources we know which are easy to use and accessible NOW and FOR FREE.
- Cool Parent Guide
- School Health and Nutrition Manual Save the Children
- The ‘Our Future’ sexuality and life-skills education package
These materials were developed through a project started in 2003 which involved the Ministry of Education, Zambia, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, Planned Parenthood Association of Zambia (PPAZ), Young, Happy, Healthy and Safe (YHHS) and teachers and learners in Grades 4 to 9 from 13 schools in Chipata District, Eastern Province, Zambia. The teachers’ and community workers’ manual was developed at the start of the project and tested and revised in three training workshops with teachers from Chipata district. Clare Hanbury, CEO and founder of Children for Health was involved in the development of the three learners guides listed above.
Other resources you might find helpful: