ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE FRIDAY TIMES
My good old school days are among the most cherished memories of my life. Back in those days, the most worrying thing in life was an incomplete homework or a pending assignment. Now as we grow up, responsibilities have piled up and the little things that meant the world to us do not have the same impact. Back in those days, parents’ biggest concern was discipline in school. I remember my mother complaining about teachers giving too much homework or giving harsh punishments. However, times have changed now and so have people.
Recent news about protests by fifth-grade students of a well known public school in Karachi,against a course book startled me. It was shocking to hear about nine year old students going on a strike against the administration over a textbook. The students were reported to have been expelled by the school administration. Well deserved I thought. My conclusion was based solely on the fact that any private institute would consider protests and strikes as a strong challenge to discipline. Therefore, I wondered what exactly the kids were thinking and why the parents were not concerned. My queries soon revealed reports about not only the parents but also the involvement of education authorities. The uproar was over a Science textbook that included chapters regarding reproduction and contraceptives. Apparently, the parents found it to be too much information for their children aged nine or ten. The protests were blown further out of proportion when school authorities claimed that there was nothing wrong with using those course books.
The incident baffled me in so many ways, considering this was a private school for girls only. I saw no problem in educating young women about contraceptives and reproduction. The story was dubbed a protest against sex education for young children. I beg to differ for the simple reason that a science book containing information regarding reproduction is not really sex education. This might well be considered the Pakistani version of it, but by all other means, it is not. Sex education involves educating pupil with ‘demonstrational help from anatomical models’, it further expands to educating them on contraceptives with an aim to spread HIV awareness and cut down teen pregnancies. However, including a chapter on reproduction or contraceptives is nowhere comparable to actual sex education and its aims. Moreover what struck me most were the children who went on registering their protest saying ‘we don’t want to read this, because its dirty’. That phrase triggered a completely new debate in my mind allowing our society to keep making taboos and hushing facts off the shelf. It is simply insane to tag something as natural as sex as ‘dirty’ for growing children. It is as if we are making a mockery for them to discover later. Surely, the means of discovery wouldn’t be pleasant if we don’t allow schools to teach this. How else would growing children learn about these issues? The same old adolescents succumbing to peer pressure and being exposed to the world of porn, I bet that ’s not dirty. My point is that by being so unreasonably taut about things that are natural we are only pushing people towards other morally forbidden things. My argument is not about sex education or porn: it is about the ways we view things as a society. It is about the ways in which our decision to protest or favour something effects the society as a whole. The ignorance does not end here. We continue to snub incidents of paedophilia and child molestation, showing our deepest shock over the incidents but nodding in disapproval on the idea of awareness and debate.
While I express my deepest concern over the issue, I am sure many would disagree. Many would want to argue that it is their right to condemn things they feel are bad for their children. But I sense yet more hypocrisy in this argument. In case I am wrong, which I might as well be, I would love to hear an explanation from parents as to why there were no protests regarding a violation of law from a school of advanced studies? Is it because it touched no taboos? I find no other reasons for the absence of an outburst after finding out that an educational institute was involved in electricity theft. This was not just minor electricity theft but a planned heist which involved stealing electricity for over three years. The school under discussion is reported to have stolen over 6 million rupees worth of electricity. Yet we see no protest and no worrisome parents bothered about the impact. Is it not fairly hypocritical of us to be concerned over a text book and not be bothered about our children studying at an educational institute accused to have stolen from the state?.
The incident clearly has more to do with touching taboos than being immoral. We would rather keep the taboo untouched and preserved than explore and discuss the issue. It is appalling that even with an increase in reported cases of paedophilia most of us continue to live in the bliss of ignorance. It might sound unreasonable to the pietistic mind but sex is as much a part of our lives as anything else.
It is widely accepted all over the world that young people have the right to know about sex education in order to educate them on abuse, sexually-transmitted diseases and sexual exploitation. How else can we expect to prevent paedophilia and protect our children from being molested? We are battling with an increased incidence of rape, harassment, exploitation cases and a hike in sexually transmitted diseases.
There is no other way to prevent these incidents other than awareness, concern and education. It is the right of every child to be holistically educated about natural acts such as sex. It is their right as individuals to be aware of the physiological, moral, and social aspects of human sexuality. As far as Islam is concerned, I am sure we all know that it encourages spreading knowledge and breaking taboos. Not only that it also encourages healthy exploration and goes on to snub barriers that might prevent us from asking questions even on matters of sexuality.
While we debate the suitable age for this kind of awareness, we must keep in mind the cases of children as young as three being raped. Awareness by means of educating an individual is the only way to break free from the taboos that haunt us. After all taboos are the creations of people who lack the courage to live and who imposed these things upon us in the guise of morals and religion.