Kamil Zaheer, Reuters
New Delhi: Banning sex education on the grounds that it offends Indian sensibilities puts young lives at risk and jeopardises the fight against AIDS, a top official said.
Six Indian states have banned sex education for adolescents or refused to implement the curriculum, saying the course material was too explicit or that it was against Indian culture.
Some politicians accuse educators of encouraging permissiveness among young people.
“We are not giving ideas to young people,” National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) chief Sujatha Rao said. “They are already there.”
“Some people are in denial that young people experiment with sex. They need to get real,” she told Reuters late on Wednesday.
Rao’s comments came ahead of NACO presenting its latest and most ambitious anti-AIDS plan — that asks for about $2 billion (Rs8,164 crore) in government funding — for cabinet approval on Thursday.
The plan for 2007-12 will focus on prevention and increasing the number of people on first-line AIDS drugs.
India has the world’s highest caseload for HIV/AIDS with 5.7 million HIV-positive people, according to the United Nations. Yet, sex is not spoken about openly in most parts of the country.
An India Today magazine survey last year showed one in four Indian women aged between 18 and 30 in 11 cities had sex before marriage.
Yet over 40% of all Indian women have not heard of AIDS, creating a dangerous combination of lack of knowledge and greater sexual activity.
“There will be a huge negative impact if you don’t provide sex education, given the vulnerability of young people to the virus,” Rao said earlier, addressing MPs who are also doctors.
“Are you more concerned about culture than the lives of young people?” she said.
The states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka have banned or refused to implement sex education curriculum introduced last year.
The Hindu nationalist government in Madhya Pradesh said sex education had “no place in Indian culture” and plans to introduce yoga in schools instead.
India has 165,000 reported AIDS cases of which around 50,000 are in the age group of 15-29 years.
“We are worried about our young people,” Rao said.