The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Shh! Anything but sex
- Ministers fight shy of S-word in land of child abuse

New Delhi, April 10: India is practising child abuse but its ministers are fumbling for words to preach against it.

The country’s education ministers, who decide what children should or should not study, are scurrying from a word that has become an outcaste in the political lexicon: sex.

One in every two children in India faces sexual abuse. Sex education would make the children aware of how they could be exploited and, therefore, better equipped to guard against abuse.

But asked if it is necessary, not one minister at a national conference of state education ministers today would utter the word “sex”.

“It is lifestyle education,” said Partha De, the minister for elementary education in Bengal, one of the few states to have introduced sex education for Classes VI to X.

De painstakingly stuck to euphemisms, which he has chiselled with remarkable skill. “It should be taught in school. There are overt and covert dangers.”

About dangers, De is right. An average of 53.22 per cent of children in the 5-18 age group face severe sexual abuse, said a nationwide study released yesterday.

But a bigger danger: as much as 70 per cent do not speak about it – a silence that will not be broken if adults, like ministers, gives the impression that uncomfortable words are best swept under the carpet.

“We want adolescent education. But the local and cultural contexts should be kept in mind,” said Kerala’s M.A. Baby at the conference organised by the human resource development ministry. The state has sent a proposal to the curriculum committee.

Other states, like Congress-ruled Maharashtra and BJP-ruled Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, have banned sex education on the grounds that it will pollute the minds of children. Last month, Karnataka scuttled a sex education and HIV/AIDS awareness programme in primary schools. The education minister said what Karnataka needed was moral education.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which has unleashed a campaign against sex education, and the Church, which appears to be in agreement, would have approved.

“We must teach girls to be more respectful to boys. And boys to be more respectful to girls,” said a speaker at the conference today. “There are new dangers. Boys and girls must be made more alert. There are new types of dangers.”

One of the dangers is from AIDS, which can be transmitted through sexual contact also, with more than 4.5 million people in India infected with the virus. India has the world’s second largest population of HIV/AIDS-affected.

But a majority of the ministers at the conference rejected the proposal for sex education — key to AIDS prevention.

After the shocking findings of the government-sponsored survey were released yesterday, women and child development minister Renuka Chowdhury had pointed out that most children do not report the abuse. “The biggest challenge is to break the silence.”

She might have been talking about the ministers.

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