While many now talk about sexuality openly, it is still a taboo subject in most Bhutanese homes.
The director for Respect, Educate, Nurture and Empower Women’s (RENEW) community outreach programme, Meenakshi Rai (PhD), said that when adults do not talk about sexuality, children do whatever they think without caution and awareness.
“Therefore, awareness is important. Children should know getting urges is natural but adults should teach them not to follow the urges,” she said.
With conversation on sexuality at home considered uncomfortable for both parents and children, most students only learn about it from textbooks.
According to UNESCO, comprehensive sexuality education is a curriculum-based process of teaching and learning about the cognitive, emotional, physical and social aspects of sexuality.
The sexuality education aims to equip children with knowledge, skills, attitudes and values to ensure their social, physical and psychological wellbeing.
“It is important for us to talk about sexuality so that children feel comfortable to share to us,” Meenakshi Rai said.
She said adults have to give space for children to share their perspective. “Space provides a chance for adults to guide them. But the moment we say ‘It is embarrassing’ they will not share,” she said.
To spread awareness of sexual and reproductive health and advocate against gender-based violence, 25 youth formed a group in 2011 called Druk Adolescents’ Initiative on Sexual Awareness Network (DAISAN).
Meenakshi Rai said children talk to their friends about sexuality, the programme helps the child to seek help from a knowledgeable friend. She said, “Lack of sexuality education increases numbers of teenage pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), mental illness and substance abuse.”
Social workers also said there should be consistency in awareness and training to impart a better understanding of sexuality education to the children.
Social workers say that at present, sexuality education comes to light when there are reports of rape or child abandonment.
“The way forward for better sexuality education was to explore strategies to engage children and make them ambassadors of their causes,” Meenakshi Rai said.
Sexuality education in schools
Deki, 19, said that sexuality education talk in school taught her to understand about reproductive health.
“There were talks on teenage pregnancy, menstruation and rape,” she said. “But the topics covered during the talks and frequencies of the meeting were less.”
She said that she does not feel comfortable to discuss sexuality education at home.
A school principal, Tsheringla, said that school counsellors and health in-charges give sexuality education classes once every two weeks. “Reproductive health and the importance of safe sex were topics covered during the sessions.”
He said that if they give sexuality education in the right time, they also ensure the psychological wellbeing of children.
Draktsho Vocational Training Centre for Special Children and Youth gives sexuality education once every two months.
“When Draktsho started, students were not aware of their sexuality, body, health and hygiene because they have a disability,” the executive director of Draktsho, Deki Zam said.
She said sexuality education has helped students become aware of sex education, unwanted pregnancies and realised the importance of puberty, health and hygiene.
“There were students with intellectual disability who did now know how to accept or take care of their sexuality during puberty which led to sexually touching each other or themself,” Deki Zam said.
She said that realising the need for sexuality education, the sessions were conducted on how to wash their genitals, use sanitary pads and dispose of used sanitary pads. “Students were informed about how to avoid unwanted teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.”
Deki Zam said other sessions also included the types of touch. “For instance, what type of touch was right and what was not, especially educating girls and women with disabilities as they are more vulnerable to sexual abuse.”
She also said the sessions helped the students a lot as they became aware of sexuality education. “Initially, they were shy and shocked. Gradually they began to open up and showed more interest.”
There are 202 students at Draktsho.
According to the executive director, parents or caregivers have to educate children when they reach a certain age.
The dean and curriculum developer from Royal Education Council, Wangpo Tenzin, said in the current curriculum, sexuality education was integrated with appropriate curricula and textbooks as learning activities, or content for learning as information.
He said, “The sexuality education at the lower primary level was provided as life episode stories with bare minimum information or concept.”
Wangpo Tenzin said at the upper primary level, students are engaged in inquiry-based learning, wherein they use the process of ‘inquiry’, ‘value exploration’ and ‘social decision making’ to understand the social dynamics in the community.
He said comprehensive sexuality generally perceived as an integral part of life skills, were essential for individuals to lead a safe, sociable and happy life. “Therefore, comprehensive sexuality education is accorded due importance.”