KARACHI - Most parents and teachers are reluctant to discuss sensitive issues with children and inform them about the physical and emotional aspects of puberty, which pushes them to seek information from unreliable sources and expose them to exploitation.

This finding was derived from a baseline study conducted by ‘Lifeline’.

Addressing a press conference, LifeLine Chief Executive Omer Aftab said that there was a severe vacuum of information in the 100 million plus Pakistani youth. To date, no serious concerted efforts have been made to sensitise them on their basic rights. Without proper guidance, youth addicted to bad habits and is scarred for life. The LSBE course, which is a major initiative, is being taught mostly in urban and semi-urban areas and ignores 62 percent of the population.

The objective of the study was to “gauge and assess the level of understanding of different key stakeholders about adolescent and youth sexual and reproductive health right issues.”

The data was collected from 9 districts of Pakistan, including Islamabad, Lahore, Lodhran, Karachi, Jamshoro, Peshawar, Abbottabad, Quetta and Pishin. Adolescents, parents, teachers, politicians, prominent religious leaders, EDOs, District Managers of Population Welfare Departments and NGO representatives of the selected districts made the target respondents for the study. Lifeline also conducted a curriculum review and Learning Needs Assessment of the Life Skill-based Education course that is taught in certain schools. The LSBE course imparts basic knowledge to adolescents to help them to cope with the physiological, psychological, political and social changes in their lives.

Lifeline’s review of this course has revealed that 83.3 percent and 74.7 percent students have reported an increase in knowledge and change in thinking due to the course. 84.4 percent of students between 12 and 15 years are in favour of the course being taught in schools. Furthermore, no objections were raised to teach the LSBE course by any quarter, including religious leaders and politicians.

Teachers and students suggested that instead of the same course being taught to all students between 12 and 17 years, a more step-wise approach be taken, ie, certain topics be taught to younger students (12-13 years of age) and the level and extent of information be increased when taught to older students. Lifeline also recommends that the sensitisation of teachers is of paramount importance. They must be trained and their training material should include reproductive anatomy and physiology in detail, so their misconceptions can be removed.

Aftab also dispelled false impressions that have nothing to do with religion but centuries old rites and customs of this region.

“Our religion does not forbid us from discussing or imparting proper guidance to the children on these sensitive issues. The issue should not be labeled as socially proscribed topic and parents especially in middle and lower middle classes should discuss these issues with their children,” he added.

It may be recalled here that growing age introduces hyperactivity of hormones that results into emotional ups and downs for youth and as a result they may face multi-faceted adjustment problems in society.

The most interesting result of the study is that 85.3 percent girls, 94.6 percent boys and 99 percent of all politicians, teachers, journalists and religious leaders endorse the idea of teaching SRH in schools. “The society is ready for positive change. Change will only come about if cultural misconceptions were addressed by proper Islamic principles that provide guidance on the emotional and physiological aspects of growing up, peer pressure, birth spacing, information on HIV/AIDS, intimacy and relationships and gender based violence,” said Aftab.