Zambia: Tempers Flare over Inclusion of Comprehensive Sexual Education in School Curriculum with Church and Laity at Each Other’s Throat
Zambia like many other countries in the world and Africa continues to grapple with issues of teenage pregnancies, child marriages, and defilement, among others. Adolescents, especially girls, face several sexual and reproductive health and rights challenges.
Current statistics indicate that 29 per cent of women aged between 15 and 19 have begun childbearing while 24 per cent had had a live birth and 5 per cent were pregnant with their first child. It also comes out that out of the 2653 defilement cases reported in 2019, 2637 were against girls and only 16 were against boys.
It was considering these and many other reasons that government through the Ministry of Education approved the inclusion of the comprehensive sexuality education in the Zambian school syllabus in 2013.
The Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) is a curriculum-based process of teaching and learning aimed at equipping children and young people with knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that will empower them to realize their health, wellbeing and dignity, among others.
However, seven years after the inclusion of the Comprehensive Sexuality Education in the Zambian school syllabus, the Church and other stakeholders have come out strongly to condemn the curriculum, saying it is a recipe for increased sexual activity, sexual risk-taking behaviour or STI/HIV infection incentive.
In a joint letter accessed by Timescape, signed by Bishop Paul Mususu and Bishop Dr. Joshua Banda, both of the evangelical fellowship of Zambia, the two emphasize that Comprehensive Sexuality Education is one of the greatest assaults on the health and innocence of children.
“Zambian parents should not stand by and allow it to unfold further in our schools. This is because unlike traditional sex education, comprehensive sexuality education is highly explicit and promotes sexual immorality and high-risk sexual behaviours to children as healthy and normal practices…’’ they warned.
They are petitioning that the Comprehensive Sexuality Education be withdrawn from the school syllabus, adding that the “Commitment” on Comprehensive Sexuality Education was signed without proper consultation with Parliament, parents, or religious leaders.
“We want to galvanize voices from a cross-section of our constituents and citizens in general, towards calling upon our Government to withdraw from the deceptive Ministerial Commitment to Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) that committed Zambia’s schools to teach highly controversial and harmful CSE programs to children in 75 per cent of Zambia’s schools. Every Zambian parent has the “prior right” to direct the education of their children, and as such this ministerial commitment violates this critical right. Article 26 (3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” the statement reads in part.
Zambia’s Ambassador to Ethiopia and Representative to the African Union, Emmanuel Mwamba says he has been privileged at the African Union to immerse himself in the debate about Comprehensive Sexuality Education and Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRH&R).
He agrees that Zambia has a crisis on teenage pregnancies, sexual abuse, early sexual debut, and child marriages but is quick to point out to Timescape that comprehensive sexuality education is not the solution.
Emmanuel Mwamba, Zambian Ambassador to Ethiopia and Representative to the African Union
“I have seen the Zambia Curriculum, Sexual Reproductive Health - this is good...But when they say Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights –it is bad, this means right to sex, right to contraceptives and right to abortions for adolescents. But in Zambia adolescents are children, requiring parental consent and rights.” Mr. Mwamba points out.
He further notes that if it is sexual rights as a human right, it does not require any consent from anyone including parents, because it is presented as child rights and adolescents' fundamental human right.
“Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) is also totally different from the traditional sexual education…it teaches children ALL types of sex from anal, gay, masturbation, and all types of sex and it's graphic because the teachers engage children to explain…On protection, children are taught about homosexuality because they can be "raped or defiled by a man or woman,” Mr. Mwamba explains.
Taking the debate further, Mr. Mwamba charges that the focus should be on implementing comprehensive entrepreneurship education than aggressively funding Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE). His point is that the country would benefit more from vocational, money, business, and trade training being taught in schools from primary schools than the sharp interest in Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE).
“CSE was designed to make the next generation "less homophobic", accept sex as a matter of right and exclude parents from sex education of their own children and adolescents to promote "It's my body, it's my right”, he regretted. To him, Zambian traditions have rich sex education that can be adapted, modernized, and adopted without eroding culture, without insulting religion, and without polarizing the parents and without adopting CSE programmes.
Despite the outcry, the Center for Reproductive Health and Education has spoken against the withdrawal of the Comprehensive Sexuality Education from the school syllabus. Its Executive Director, Amos Mwale says withdrawing this component from the curriculum is unwarranted, adding that early pregnancies and risk behaviour require a concerted effort by all stakeholders to develop a curriculum that is tested and based on facts.
Mr. Mwale says people have been publishing wrong information on the matter, resulting in unnecessary confusion and panic among Zambians.
“Have they had an opportunity to interrogate experts at the Ministry of Education to enable them to issue such misleading remarks? The world has evolved and there is need for Zambia to be dynamic and improve its curriculum to meet the needs of young people in the 21st century”, he says.
Mr. Mwale‘s views are re-echoed by the Ministry of General Education’s Permanent Secretary, Jobbicks Kalumba who notes the need to recognize that the world has changed and that children are exposed to a lot of information that not even parents have.
Jobbicks Kalumba, Permanent Secretary at Zambia's Ministry of General Education
“...and so, there is a need for us to ensure that our boys and girls are given information that will prepare them to meet the challenges of life…” he urged.
Mr. Kalumba tells Timescape that the Ministry as the custodian of the curriculums, must engage the stakeholders and understand the issues that they are raising and learn from them.
“We want to hear from them, what are the issues that they are presenting? We will also present the curriculum on the table so that they point out what the issues are and then we will be able to reconcile the two”, he maintains, adding that Zambia is a Christian nation, and that will not be compromised.
“If issues of homosexuality are promoted then, am afraid we cannot conform to such kind of norms, as a Christian nation we have the values that define us as Zambians. But I know that in our curriculum, we do not have issues that promote homosexuality, they are not there”, he concludes
This clash of opinions on the inclusion of Comprehensive Sexuality Education may only find common ground during interactive meetings between the Ministry of General education and stakeholders who are raising concerns on its content.