COMPREHENSIVE sexual education should be a part of a school curriculum, according to executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and under-secretary of the United Nations, Dr Babatunde Osotimehin.
As part of the University of the West Indies’ distinguished open lecture series, Osotimehin is in Trinidad where he addressed an audience at the Learning Resource Centre at the UWI St Augustine campus yesterday on the topic “Motherhood in Childhood. Facing the challenge of adolescent pregnancy.’’
“We at the UNFPA believe that comprehensive sexual education must be a part of education. The ability for the girl to understand, the ability for the girl to access correct information and the ability for the girl to access services if she does require it is a basic right she must have,”stressed Osotimehin.
Each day in developing countries 20,000 girls below the age of 18 give birth and each year 7.3 million girls give birth below the age of 18. Out of this number two million are under the age of 14, according to the latest report on the state of the world population compiled by the UNFPA. The rates of adolescent pregnancy in the Caribbean are among the highest in the world.
The issue of comprehensive sexual education in schools is a contentious one, says Osotimehin but he contends that girls who are in school should be able to access information about contraceptives. He has seen first hand the benefits of such programmes. He was the director general of the Nigerian National Agency for the Control of AIDS which coordinates all HIV and AIDS work in a country of about 160 million people.
In that position, Osotimehin established sexual education programmes throughout Nigeria. The result was that the uptake of information was high. What Osotimehin also observed was that these programmes also empowered girls and many started abstinence clubs in their schools. Osotimehin stated that in developed countries which have comprehensive sexual education that have delivered universal access to information and services with regards to contraception, the number of teen pregnancy cases decreased, whereas countries where this is absent, there are high rates of unsafe abortions and suicides.
Osotimehin said the UNFPA is working with Caricom on the issue of adolescent pregnancy and key strategies to address it.
Some of these strategies include sexual education programmes in schools, public policies at sub-regional levels to address gender equality and gender-based violence such as rape and incest and policies which ensure that girls go to school and stay in school.
“We know for a fact that when girls go to school and stay in school up to the age of 18 they tend not to have children and when they do, they have fewer children and they are able to make decisions for themselves,” he said.
Osotimehin served as Minister of Health in Nigeria prior to his appointment at the UNFPA in 2011. In recognition of his contributions as a leader of Nigeria’s response to HIV and AIDS he was awarded the national honour of Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON) in 2005.