Comprehensive Sexuality Education: From Mauritius ESA commitment to now - where we stand?
On the 7th December 2013, Health and Education Ministers and representatives from 20 countries in Eastern and Southern Africa affirmed their commitment to endorse sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services for adolescents and young people; the outcome of a thorough consultation at both regional and national levels; seeding the path for scale up HIV prevention strategies through sexuality education and vital health services. Mauritius formed part of this UNAIDS led initiative with the support of other UN bodies such as UNESCO, UNFPA, UNICEF, WHO and a number of bilateral and civil society partners, including young people’s organisations. Nearly three years after this commitment, where does the country stand now?
Since 2013, or even before, as back as in 2010, Mrs A. Navarre-Marie, then parliamentary member of opposition queried if sex education will be introduced in the school curriculum. ‘Life skills’ or ‘health education’ or ‘integrated science and biology’ were then used as cautious attempt to introduce sex education for students in a society where ‘sex’ remains a taboo.
In 2011, official figures have alarmed authorities that 22% young Mauritians aged 13 – 15 years old are engaging in sexual activities; confirming early sexual debut. The then Minister of Education, Honourable Vassant Bunwaree stated that sexuality education will be incrementally introduced in schools, starting from early primary (6 – 11 years old) to then being extended to secondary schools (12/13 to 18/21 years old) as full-fledged classes especially to ensure safer sexual practices and as a response to HIV/AIDS and STIs.
While talks have been on to develop the curriculum around sexuality education, since change of Government end 2014, the new Minister of Education, Honourable Mrs. Leela Devi Dookhun seems to continue on her predecessor’s task with a slightly different objective: that to better equip the children, young people and adolescents victims of sexual abuses (generally by their closed relatives) – always one more, one too gruesome, one too many in the Mauritian society! Nonetheless, sexuality education in schools does not reach a consensus among key stakeholders and actors and opinions differ.
The Government Secondary School Teachers' Union on its part said that they were against the proposed concept of having already in service teachers teaching youths about sexuality at schools. They spoke of the responsibility of parents in the matter while pointing out that the curriculum of students is already filled to the brim. The GSSTU lays down one condition to include sexuality education in schools – that there are newly recruited trained teachers/officers to dispense the training on sexuality education to students.
Conversely, the Government Teacher's Union is for the introduction of sexuality education as early as the age of 8/9 years old in primary schools.
The other issue remains the package of the sexuality education in itself. Since 2013 groundwork with Action Familiale and the Mauritius Family Planning Welfare Association has started; which is good work in itself. However, Action Familiale is known to be inclusive for instance against abortion, LGBTI and too Christian-faith oriented, thus leaving out marginalised young people and not being comprehensive. While in Christian-faith schools their approach is appreciated, the critique in public schools is that we live in a multi-ethnic multi-religious country of Hindus (around 50%), Muslims (20%), Christians (27%) and Chinese (3%).
Comprehensive sexuality education seems to remain some sort of ‘political propaganda’ without real commitment from policy and decision makers used as placating statements after horrendous sexual abuses on children such as child rape, etc.
Amidst, diverging approaches, early sexual debuts of young people and the real risk of HIV/AIDS and STIs and sexual abuses; State and non-state actors, parents, faith-leaders, teachers, community actors and leaders – using multi-level approaches – have the duty to properly equip children and young people so as to ensure their proper development. Sex is no longer a taboo for children and young people. When will Mauritius face this reality and act?
Young Queer Alliance