The fact that sexuality education has always been a controversial issue means that adolescents and youth have been exposed to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) challenges such as, teenage pregnancies, early marriages and sexually transmitted infections.
According to the Uganda Demographic Health Survey 2016 (UDHS 2016), four in every 100 teenage girls are either pregnant or have had their first child. Therefore, the framework is a welcome breath of fresh air.
The framework has designed messages to cater to five age groups, beginning with children between three to five years. These toddlers will learn about their bodies and recognise what an unacceptable body touch is.
However, Ismail Mulindwa, the Education ministry commissioner in-charge of private schools and sexuality education coordinator, says the framework cannot be used as a teaching document just yet. “It is just a guide. We are yet to come up with an implementation plan to guide activities such as, teaching and retooling teachers so that they can handle sexuality education.”
Mulindwa adds that in the implementation, MoES will re-engage and re-sensitise religious leaders. In July, the Catholic Church and Church of Uganda opposed sexuality education, saying introducing it to three-year-old children is not right. This opposition has become a huge stumbling block.
Grace Baguma, the director of the National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC), says the subject has not yet been integrated into the school curricula. “We are still working on the content. It will be in the new school curricula of 2020. We are not working with those people (religious leaders). We are following the framework which was launched by the minister.”
In the meantime, children will continue being exposed to teenage pregnancies and HIV. According to the UDHS 2016, by the age of 15, seven and eight out of every 100 teenage girls and boys have had sex, respectively.
Also, a 2016 study on the linkage between pregnancy and school dropouts in Uganda, carried out by MoES and Forum for Women Educationalists Uganda, found that among sexually active girls, 36 per cent (29 per cent in primary and 50 per cent in secondary school) have used contraceptives. Over two thirds of sexually active girls in primary school got pregnant.
The fact that the framework caters for those in formal education raises questions about the plight of hundreds of school dropouts.
“The ministry of Gender has the mandate over children who are not in school and they are undertaking to develop a framework. But those children can take advantage of the MoES framework,” Mulindwa says.
The authors of the framework place emphasis on abstinence. However, the high teenage pregnancy rate is telling. James Tumusiime, the gender and youth coordinator in Reproductive Health Uganda (RHU), says preaching abstinence and safety for younger age groups is the ideal. However, as children enter puberty, the message should grow in scope and realism.
“With menstruation comes the risk of getting pregnant so, besides menstrual hygiene, a girl should be told about the origins of pregnancy, the implications of sex and how to talk about it,” Tumusiime says.
He adds that talking about abstinence is good but we should recognise that teenagers are living in a fluid society. “A 16-year-old should know about condoms, contraceptives and HIV and where they can get those services. In the event that things happen, there should be a fallback position. The life of a minor should not end because they had sex.”
However, Mulindwa maintains that much as the framework’s fundamental objective is abstinence, it also caters for teenagers facing challenges.
“We tell them to go to a health worker if they have problems. We are not going to promote condom use if people are already having sex. You cannot start at the tail end. You start with the skills and knowledge so that girls do not become pregnant,” he says.
As it is, with religious leaders having contentions, the implementation of sexuality education is still a long way off. This week, religious leaders, MoES officials and RHU are going to meet to re-engage on the way forward.