Ugandan court banned sex education
IN 2016 UGANDAN officials stormed the halls of Green Hill Academy, a popular primary school in Kampala, the Ugandan capital. They were on a curious mission. The ethics and integrity minister had ordered them to seize copies of Jacqueline Wilson’s “Love Lessons,” a book about how a 14-year-old girl called Prudence falls in love with her art teacher. Conservative Ugandans had a fit over fears that “erotic” and “distorted” books were brainwashing their children. Within months, all forms of sex education were banned. Last November, a court lifted the parliamentary ban and gave the education ministry homework to write a new policy on how it will teach children about sexuality.
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The trial was not without surprises. Ismail Mulindwa, a senior ministry official, argued that teaching young people about sexuality could lead them to masturbate or become gay. (Presumably, he thought these were bad things.) Conservative views on sex education start at the top. President Yoweri Museveni and his wife Janet, Minister of Education, have long promoted celibacy as the best way to prevent sexually transmitted diseases. Both are against condoms, arguing that they promote promiscuity. And the first lady seems to think that birth control pills not only do not prevent pregnancy, but also erode mores, turning Ugandans into sex-crazed people who “have sex, take pills, conceive and abort.”
Ignorance is risky. Although the deaths of AIDS, a disease caused by HIV viruses, have fallen sharply, in part because many infected people are now being treated, the virus is still a major cause of death in Uganda. Less than half of young Ugandans know how to avoid catching HIV while having sex. Few seem to know much about contraception either. About a quarter of adolescent girls are pregnant or already have a child. About 15% are married by the age of 15; about half tied the knot at 18.
These alarming numbers have been exacerbated by the government’s clumsy response to covid-19. It closed schools at the start of the pandemic almost two years ago and will not reopen them until this month. In June of last year, the teenage pregnancy rate had jumped 17% from March 2020.
Perhaps those responsible for drafting the new policy could learn from the mistakes of the past. An earlier executive in 2018 suggested lifting the ban on sex education. However, he also suggested teaching children that the best way not to catch HIV is not having sex. He hardly mentioned contraception. All he said about masturbation was that no one should. His only reference to gay sex was the name of the law banning it.
The framework mentioned God 62 times and made âfear of Godâ its main guiding principle. Yet some pious people were still not satisfied. Some Muslims felt the policy was too Christian; some Christians thought it was not conservative enough. Reverend Stanley Ntagali, Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Uganda, denounced the framework as part of the “UNpro-promiscuous, pro-gay, pro-abortion sex program â. A coalition of religious leaders agreed on one thing: to reject politics altogether.
Those responsible for drafting the new framework could take a look at what has worked elsewhere. UNESCO found that teaching young people about condoms is much more effective in stopping pregnancies, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases than teaching them abstinence. A better framework should also try to help young people avoid exploitative or violent relationships, says Rose Wakikona of the Center for Health, Human Rights and Development, a Ugandan nonprofit organization that brought the case that brought the case to light. canceled the ban. She describes the separate case of a nine-year-old rape victim, who testified that a man “slept on her” because she was unable to describe the act.
Education is a start, but it is only one piece of the puzzle. Some 28% of married Ugandan women who wish to use contraceptives cannot obtain them, making Uganda’s ‘unmet need’ for contraception higher than the average for sub-Saharan Africa, where 25% do not. still do not have. It’s not just the Department of Education that has a lot of homework to complete. â
This article appeared in the Middle East and Africa section of the print edition under the title “Birds and the ‘Be Quiet'”