POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 24 June 2010, Thursday
Ignorance is Not Bliss
The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines and other Roman Catholic church and conservative groups recently launched a high-profile campaign against the United Nations-backed sex education courses to be taught in elementary and high school this month.
Moro Islamic Liberation Fund Da’wah Committee head Sheik Muhammad Muntassir also issued a protest, saying “This is like preparing the child to be competitive for the next world of sex.” (sic)
They believe the Adolescent Reproductive Health program, implemented by the Department of Education, will promote promiscuity among the youth and erode religion-based moral codes.
Let’s take a look at recent demographic statistics. The country’s population is at 96 million and rising at roughly 2% yearly; 7 out of 10 new mothers are teenagers; an estimated 64,000 abortions are performed on teenagers yearly; and the incidence of HIV/AIDS cases spread through sexual contact have risen sharply the past two years.
Proponents of the sex education course say that ignorance and lack of knowledge contributed to sex-related problems such as the population explosion, high rate of teenage pregnancy and abortions, and increasing number of AIDS cases.
Opponents say the course will teach teens to be promiscuous. (Given these numbers, aren’t they already?) They argue further that giving young people access to this kind of information will encourage them to engage in sexual behavior. According to Human Life International executive director Dr. Ligaya Acosta, “(This) is actually a course in systematic behavior modification, designed to change the child’s entire belief system.” She claimed that “researches around the world substantiate the fact that the more contraceptive programs are aimed at the young, the more pregnancies, abortions, promiscuity, sexually transmitted diseases, and cancer of the cervix results.”
In other words, one may argue both ways about knowledge – that it both deters and promotes a certain behavior. A paradox if I ever saw one.
Meanwhile, in cities across the country, mayors, other local government officials, and health-care workers are doing their part to provide solutions. When lawmakers failed to pass the Reproductive Health Bill during the last session, the mayor of a large Metro Manila city remarked, “I don’t wait anymore for Congress and the Senate to act. I see the problems first-hand, so I help directly and immediately by handing out condoms and contraceptives.” What was the reaction, I asked, of the clergy in his area? “Wala,” said the mayor. “None.”
Perhaps the Church officials in that city are turning a blind eye because they see for themselves the pressing need for such steps to alleviate these social problems, which are seen as contributing to the problem of poverty.
Something needs to be done. The question dividing society now is, will the sex ed course help or harm?
The conservative and religious crusaders say matters such as family planning and sex are best taught by parents at home. But not all children have parents – how about the families of overseas foreign workers? Not all children have parents who are knowledgeable about the science, facts, and theories behind sex education and gender issues. We wouldn’t have these problems to begin with if they were, now would we? Also, parents who do have the knowledge may not be comfortable discussing sex with their children, and vice versa.
In a classroom setting, where gender and sex matters will be discussed by a trained teacher in a clinical manner, young people would be more likely to learn more and freely participate in the discourse and exchange of information. Ideally, from a communication viewpoint, this awareness and knowledge should translate into a change in attitude and practice.
The DepEd has offered to show the course modules to the public for feedback. In this way, those concerned may have a hand in shaping these sensitive and necessary lessons and ensure that our children will receive the information they need to conduct their future sexual behavior along safe and responsible lines.
If there were no such course taught, where would the curious adolescents go for the information? To each other? That’s like the blind leading the blind. To the Internet? Now that, according to one study, is made up of 34% porn, though that may be exaggerated.
Isn’t it best then, that trained instructors be given the task of enriching our children’s knowledge, rather than let them grope along unaided, finding out for themselves in the back seats of cars and in the delivery rooms of hospitals?
CBCP Legal Office executive secretary Atty. Jo Imbong and 30 other parents filed a suit against DepEd to halt the program, saying it was the “first step to reclaim our culture,” against “the forces that are reshaping the hearts and minds of our children.”
But sex ed courses were started only last year. How can it be a force that “reshapes hearts and minds”? If sex ed courses do contribute to promiscuity, teen pregnancies, more abortions, and so on, as Dr. Acosta asserted, then why do we now have such high figures all across the board for these without having had sex education? Therefore such courses cannot be blamed for the increased sexualization of our youth.
It is a growing phenomenon around the world. Where is it coming from? May I direct your attention to the glowing screens in your house – the television and the Internet. Mass media and advertising for the past several years have shown a pattern of sexualization of girls at younger ages; males, to a lesser degree but still at a marked rate compared to before.
I’d say it started with Britney Spears’ “Baby One More Time” video in 1999. From then on, the clothes got shorter and the moves more obscene. Today artists such as Beyonce, Lady Gaga, and Shakira writhe across the stage, semi-clad. We have our own versions of sexy dancers gyrating half-naked on the daily variety shows, with unequivocal names like “Sex Bomb”.
The Sex Bomb Dancers in 2008. Photo by Ben de Leon here.
The cultural sexualization of the youth is a global trend. It is alarming, true. But because of rapid advances in communication technology, these types of media are easy to access and consume. This is now our culture, whether you like it or not. Unless you are North Korea or an Islamic country, there is no way no control this trend without taking away people’s basic rights to information and freedom of expression.
Why not fight information with information? Foes of the Adolescent Reproductive Health program are doing a disservice to the UN and DepEd efforts to equip our youth with what may be their best weapon against unwanted pregnancies, HIV, and sex-related issues. Ignorance is never a good thing. ***