Yangyel Lhaden

In 2020, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck referral hospital and the Royal Bhutan Police together received 45 teenage pregnancy cases.  That is besides 79 cases of sexual assaults involving minors—41 from the hospital’s forensic department, 38 from RBP.  According to records with RBP, 33 cases involved sexual assault on girls above the age of 12 years and five below 12.

Dema turns 11 next month.  She is worried about menstruation but cannot talk to anyone, even her mother. “I have some idea about it, from TikTok. Menstruation and sexuality issues aren’t talked about in school, neither at home.”

According to education, forensic and RENEW (Respect, Educate, Nurture, and Empower Women) officials, said that young people have little knowledge about their sexuality, diseases, care and relationship.  And so, a comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) is necessary.

What is CSE? 

CSE is curriculum-based education, which aims to equip children and young people with the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that will enable them to develop a positive view of their sexuality in the context of their emotional and social development.

In 2008, to build positive behaviour among young people and to prepare them for the transition of adult life, a guidebook for teachers, life skill based-comprehensive sexuality education (LSE) was launched.

LSE is based on 10 core life skills—critical thinking, self-awareness, decision-making, effective communication, coping with stress, empathy, creative thinking, problem solving, interpersonal relationship, and coping with emotion.  That means with the life skills, sexuality topics such as sexual harassment, puberty, and teenage pregnancy are taught whereby sexuality topics are used as tools to learn life skills.  The guide is based on age appropriate level which starts from age eight.

The problem is life skills education overshadows sexuality education.  What is more?  LSE is not part of curriculum.  So, it depends on school to school as to how to implement LSE.  Some teachers and counsellors are still not aware that the guide exists.

A student of Sherubtse College in Trashigang said sexuality education she got was only from her biology textbooks in school.  Sexuality education was a taboo subject, she said.

Implementation problems 

Choening Sherab, senior programme officer with School Health and Nutrition Division, said the programme lacked uniformity in implementation as some schools conducted sessions during assembly and library period.  Some schools do not even have designated period for LSE.

A review of Life Skills Education 2014 revealed the time devoted for each LSE class ranged from five to more than 366 minutes in a single academic year.  Modality varied from zero-period, extra-curricular and library period, among others.

A counsellor said that she referred to LSE during guidance counselling (GC), which happens once a week for every class.

She said GC was based on needs assessment and some topics about sexuality, such as healthy relationships within family and among friends and puberty. “Because of limited time, however, full focus can’t be given to sexuality education.”

A primary school teacher has not seen the guidebook even.  She said that value education was taught to students where only a few aspects of sexuality education are included.

A school counsellor in Trashigang said that she got CSE materials from the Internet. “For CSE to be successful, teachers must be trained.”

What must happen? 

Programme officer with RENEW, Ugyen Thinley, said that the guidebook must be revised, as LGBTI aspect, gender-based violence, social media influence on sexuality were not covered.

Tshering Dolkar, officiating executive director of RENEW, said that CSE must be made strong to keep young people well informed in or out of school.

LSE review also revealed that 36.5 percent of teachers were uncomfortable teaching topics related to sexuality; others misunderstood the concept of CSE and feared that it could encourage sexual behaviour among students.

CSE was launched in 2014 by Paro College of Education to train teacher trainees of two teacher-training institutes to teach LSE.  However, it was offered as non-credited 30-hour module.

Samtse College of Education discontinued teaching CSE module as per wheel of academic law of Royal University of Bhutan which does not allow teaching non-credited module.

When should CSE begin?

Before puberty. Ugyen Thinley said that CSE should actually start from kindergarten.

A counsellor with RENEW, Kesang Dolkar, said, as perpetrators of sexual assault on minors were mostly family members, children might think such assaults are acceptable. “If children are made aware of their sexuality and their rights, it can reduce sexual assault against them.”

According to National Statistics Bureau’s report in 2015 on sexual and reproductive health of adolescents and youth in Bhutan, more than 43 percent of the women aged between 15 and 49 years experienced first pregnancy between 11 and 19 years.

Royal Education Council’s (CSE) Karma Dorji said that, since  2019 curriculum revision, some grades began to incorporate sexuality education in Science, Social studies, Dzongkha and English.

The revised textbook is expected to reach the school this year.