Sex education must start at home and continue at school

26 January 2021

In Moldovan families, sex education is still a taboo subject. This is demonstrated by statistics on the number of teenagers who become pregnant at an early age. Studies show that in most cases young parents come from poor families and are not fully educated.

In Moldovan families, sex education is still a taboo subject. This is demonstrated by statistics on the number of teenagers who become pregnant at an early age. Studies show that in most cases young parents come from poor families and are not fully educated. Both doctors and other experts say that early teenage pregnancy could be avoided if there was more and more open discussion in families and schools about sex education, reproductive health and contraception. Doctors say that giving birth at an early age can have a long-term effect on young women's health, both physically and mentally. Ioana (the protagonist's name has been changed) is 17 and attends a vocational school in a district in the south of the country. She admits that she has only heard about sexual and reproductive health at school, in biology and management classes, and that her family has not discussed the subject much. After a relationship with a young man a few years her senior, Ioana became pregnant. At first, she was afraid and ashamed to tell her parents, but when the pregnancy could no longer be hidden, she plucked up courage and told them. According to the girl, her parents didn't blame her, but convinced her to keep the baby. She now lives with her baby's father and says she is getting married. "I'm going to try to finish my studies and also take care of the pregnancy. I'm afraid that when I give birth I won't be able to manage with the baby, but I'm glad that the parents are there to help us," says Ioana. Early pregnancies a consequence of lack of information Gynaecologists say that most early pregnancies are due to lack of information or ineffective communication between parents and child on sex education. To reduce the number of teenage pregnancies, youth-friendly centres are working with state institutions to provide free contraception and organise healthy lifestyle lessons in schools. Svetlana Moroz, a gynaecologist at the Youth Friendly Health Centre (YFC) "Youth for Youth" in the city of Cimislia, has about 40 pregnant teenagers under her care. "A 17-year-old girl is not yet ready to become a mother in many ways: psychologically, physiologically, financially and socially. Unfortunately, many teenagers know nothing about reproductive health. Often, both boys and girls lack basic knowledge about protection, contraception. At the time of pregnancy, many girls didn't even know what the signs of pregnancy were," says S. Moroz. Psychologist Svetlana Taras, head of the CSPT "Youth for Youth" in Orhei, warns that early pregnancy can also affect a girl's behaviour after giving birth: "The fact that she is not physically ready for a pregnancy influences her emotional state, which can also affect her somatic health. Some underage girls get stuck and can't analyse the situation, are stressed and end up stigmatised." The psychologist points out that boys who are about to become fathers at a young age are equally affected. Families and schools need to promote sex education for teenagers Studies show that most minors who become parents have no knowledge of sexual and reproductive health. The study "Teenage pregnancy in Moldova", conducted in 2019 by the Centre for Health Policy and Analysis and the UN Population Fund in Moldova (UNFPA), finds that teenage girls who become pregnant come from socio-economically vulnerable families, where alcohol or violence is abused, and some girls are from incomplete families or with parents who have gone abroad. The research shows that the majority of teenagers who become pregnant by the age of 18 have not discussed sexual relations and contraception with their families. According to data from the National Bureau of Statistics, in 2014, 41 pregnant girls were registered per 1,000 girls aged 15-19. Five years on, the figures have dropped to 29 pregnant teenagers out of a thousand in the same age group. Even if there is some decrease in the number of early pregnancies, the figures are still worrying, says Ludmila Sîrbu, an analyst in UNFPA's Youth Programme. She believes that health education should be a compulsory part of the school curriculum, not optional as it is now. "It is a very useful and complete course, adapted to the age group, but it is not taught in all schools or selected by students, so only about 10% choose it every year. If we want to change the situation, it is imperative that this subject becomes part of the compulsory curriculum. Sexual and reproductive health continues to remain a taboo subject in our society, and parents do not discuss with their children about their body development, what happens to the teenager, about sexual relations. In this context, the role of schools is even more important to prepare students for life," concludes the expert. Civic activist Ion Andronache points out that as long as teenagers discuss these topics at home and school teachers supplement their knowledge, there will be fewer cases of young people becoming parents without being prepared. "If the child does not receive the necessary information in the family, this gap must be filled by the educational institution. The ultimate aim must be to focus on the child's needs and inform them about all aspects of sexual life, from knowing their own body, conceiving a child, sexually transmitted diseases and most importantly - about forms of abuse. An informed child is a protected child. We need to get rid of this fear or shame of discussing such important topics as sex life with our own children," says Ion Andronache. "There are enough subjects for teenagers' reproductive education" For her part, the secretary of state in the Ministry of Education, Science and Research, Natalia Grîu, says that the framework plan includes both core subjects and optional subjects that build on the pupil's skills in healthy living and sex education. "As part of the 2019 curriculum reform, some changes have been made to the biology subject, which covers reproductive education as part of sex education. Thus, experts anticipated the acceleration of physical development of young people and made content changes, including the inclusion of elements of reproductive health and sex education earlier, at the level of secondary grades V-VII in particular. Head teachers also teach 'Personal Development' aimed at educating young people, including sex education. We hope that these revisions will lead to results soon," said N. Grîu. Mariana Jacot, Independent Press Association