PRESIDENT of the Jamaica Family Planning Association, Sonia Folkes, has added to the calls for the introduction of sex education in the school curriculum, saying that children should be taught about their sexual and reproductive health from as young as seven.
According to Folkes, sexual and reproductive health education is very critical given the number of young children who are engaging in sexual activities without knowing how to protect themselves. According to the latest Reproductive and Health Survey, nearly 12 per cent of Jamaican girls reported having had sex before age 15.
"What I find incongruous is that the age of consent is 16, yet there is strong opposition from certain quarters from having sex education in schools," she said. "We need to place more emphasis on sex education in schools and from an early age. I recommend the age of seven, which is the age of reason, because there are a lot of misconceptions and we are seeing children as young as 10 indulging in sex and they don't have a clue of the dangers they are in."
Folkes was among a panel discussing the history and development of reproductive health services in Jamaica at last Wednesday's World Population Day symposium at Emancipation Park in St Andrew, organised by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ).
She explained that she was not advocating for seven-year-olds to be taught directly about sex, but more about their body, their feelings and other aspects of sexual and reproductive health.
She also called on teachers to change their view that sex education at an early age will engender early sexual indulgence.
Another panelist, Easton Williams, head of the PIOJ's Social Policy, Planning and Research Division, said that it was the duty of parents to also teach their children about sex.
"Parents, if we do not teach our kids about sex, we will be receiving kids who are HIV-positive or pregnant, and we are putting them into the grave if we do not educate them properly. Sex education should be a part of the school," he said.
He also urged adolescents to take charge of their sexual and reproductive health.
"Sex and reproduction are serious business. Put your priority straight and empower yourselves for the future. Education is key and having a baby or getting a baby is your responsibility, not your parents or any one else's," he said. "Get real. Sex will come and you will be glad you waited."
Meanwhile, Dr Zoey Simpson, director of fields operation at the Women Centre, urged persons to support teenage mothers in continuing their education instead of discriminating against them.
"A girl becomes pregnant; pregnancy is not the end of the world; her education is of paramount importance. She became pregnant, it affected her womb, it did not affect her brain," she said.
Added Simpson: "There are several teenage mothers who have returned to school and have done exceptionally well and we should seek to ensure that teenage mothers, who return to the formal school system do, in fact, complete their secondary education and do not drop out a second time, and teenage fathers should be brought into a systematic programme to ensure that they do not father a second child while they are in school."