One word (and its derivatives) must be taboo for any policy document on sex education for teens, the NDA government believes. That word is “sex”.
The human resource development ministry has forced an expert panel to condense its recommendations on adolescent education to just one sentence because the original draft mentioned the word “sexual” twice.
The final document was submitted in May this year, when Smriti Irani headed the ministry.
The BJP has always been cagey about the adolescent education programme since its introduction in schools. A 2009 report by a Rajya Sabha committee, headed by senior BJP politician Venkaiah Naidu, had prohibited textbooks from depicting condoms or certain body parts.
Sources said the expert committee’s original draft contained half a page on adolescent education, mainly advocating more thorough lessons against unprotected sex. But ministry officials raised an objection during the last round of discussions.
“They said that words like ‘sex’ or ‘sexual’ could not be allowed and the section had to be condensed into just one sentence,” a source said.
One of the sentences in the original draft had cited the need to address “the health of adolescents, particularly the reproductive and sexual health needs”, given that this being “a cultural sensitive area, they are deprived of appropriate information”.
This leads to “their understanding (being) guided predominantly by myth and misconception, making them vulnerable to drug/substance abuse and HIV/AIDS transmission”.
Therefore, the draft suggested providing the adolescents with “age-appropriate context intervention focused on reproductive and sexual health concerns, including HIV/AIDS and drug and substance abuse”.
Now, the lone sentence on adolescent education in the 220-page final policy document says: “The Adolescent Education Programme and National Population Education Programme need to be extended to all schools as early as possible.”
Former cabinet secretary T.S.R. Subramanian, who headed the committee, did not wish to comment. Another panel member, asking not to be identified, confirmed the ministry’s advice and said the committee had complied because it agreed that the word “sexual” might “offend” some people.
There was no clarification who might have been offended by the word. The document was to be sent to the various state governments and school boards.
There was some talk about the document being uploaded on the ministry website to seek the public’s opinion but this hasn’t been done even after the deletion of the “offending” word.
“We did not make it an issue because the policy’s focus was not on adolescent education: it’s a broad document on the entire subject of education,” the panel member who spoke to this newspaper said.
The member added that the implementing agencies could always expand the one-sentence recommendation as they felt fit.
The final document does use the word “sex” once but in a different context (where “gender” would have sufficed), saying “all students, irrespective of caste, creed, location or sex would have access to education of a comparable quality up to a given level”.
The ministry has declined to accept the recommendations in toto, saying they would be treated as inputs.
Votaries of adolescent education have cited data from the National AIDS Control Organisation that show that 35 per cent of reported AIDS cases in India occur among people aged 15 to 24. More than half the new HIV infections too are reported within the same age group.
Besides, adolescent students need to be sensitised on substance use, they say.
Sources in the National Council of Educational Research and Training said that topics on adolescent education had been part of the textbook agency’s biology and social science books for Classes IX to XII since 2007. The council has prepared separate training material for teachers.
Many states follow the NCERT textbooks, while some have adopted adolescent education material developed by the Council of Boards of School Education, an agency that coordinates with the state boards on matters of common interest.