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Sex Education is OK but must be ‘culturally sensitive’

The Sectoral Oversight Committee on Women and Gender met yesterday (21) in parliament to discuss the ‘Hathe Ape Potha,’ a sex education textbook given to the Grade seven students which has aroused much controversy.

The discussion involved many experts including health sector professionals, Education and Health Ministry representatives and the Buddhist clergy and opinions in favour of the book and those opposing the book were taken into consideration.

The parties who mainly opposed the content of the book said it was inappropriate for twelve-year-old readers to discuss masturbation.

Senior Lecturer of the University of Peradeniya, in psychiatry Dr Pabasari Ginige explained the need for improving sex education in Sri Lanka.

According to statistics obtained at a psychology clinic conducted at Peradeniya Teaching Hospital between the years 1984 and 2001, Ginige said that 94 per cent of children who faced sexual harassment have been assaulted by the people they knew.

“Within the considered period a total of 84 children have been sexually harassed and out of them, 73.5 percent of the children were over 11 years and 16.9 per cent were between the ages six to ten. Importantly, 9.6 per cent of them was below six years,” Ginige said.

Dr Ginige pointed out that the content regarding masturbation should not be something to fuss about.

“If it is in accordance with the syllabus, I am of the opinion that those two sentences shouldn’t be a problem. I’ve met many adults who come to the clinics who believed that masturbating is a sin. It shouldn’t be like that because it is a normal process with the hormonal changes. Children should not, therefore, think it is a wrong thing to do. So I think we have to improve sex education in our country in a culturally sensitive manner,” Dr Ginige said.

However, Dr Wasantha Bandara who represented national organizations said that the book is a ‘reckless’ piece of work and said that national standards should be made before preparing such a book.

“It is internationally accepted that standards should be made before preparing material about sex education. The cultural aspects should be considered important. We don’t refuse sex education but when we include certain content we should keep in mind that those don’t appear to be prejudicial. If one monk does something wrong, nowadays there is a trend to generalize that to all the monks. Therefore, we request to create proper standards and policies before creating such a book,” Bandara said.

Prof Medagoda Abhayatissa Thero, who recently criticised the ‘Hathe Ape Potha’ too, shared his opinion at the discussion.

“It seemed to me that although this book was meant to provide sex education, it encourages sexual stimulation. I don’t say that sex education is not necessary but the book is age-inappropriate. Certain content of the book normalizes the unusual behaviour of those who are too matured for their age,” he said.

However, addressing the discussion, Chancellor of University of Ruhuna Dr Akuratiye Nanda Thero said that he is of the opinion that the book does not contain anything inappropriate.

The Committee finally decided to direct the Education Ministry to submit a comprehensive report regarding the ‘Hathe Ape Potha’ and then decide regarding the distribution of book among the students.