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Has Sex Education in Colombia Failed?

Angela Castellanos

Sexuality education in Colombia has failed to reduce teen motherhood -- and a new study finds the curriculum's failure to address cultural stereotypes of male and female behavior is partly to blame.

If the purpose of sexual education programs
is to promote a responsible sexual life among young people, such programs
have failed in Colombia, say various experts.

"Practically none of the sexual education
programs has been successfully in postponing the starting age of sexual
relations, promoting the use of contraception methods, and reducing
teen motherhood," states Agustin Conde, Colombian gynecologist and
consultant of the Pan
American Health Organization

This is one of the findings of a recent study by Colaboración Cochrane and released at the First Public Health Congress
Comfenalco-Valle, held in Cali, Colombia.

In fact, in Colombia the percentage of
women between 25 and 49 years old who have their first sexual relation
before their fifteenth birthday increased from 8% in 2000 to 11% in 2005.

Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.

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For Conde, the need for sexual education
is not a moral matter, but a health matter, because the risk of dying
from pregnancy-related causes in four times as high for adolescents
under the age of 16 years old. Moreover, pregnant adolescents are more
likely to have preterm or low birth-weight babies, and newborns of teenagers
have higher rates of neonatal mortality.

In most Latin America and the Caribbean
countries, in average 38% of women get pregnant before they reach 20 years old,
and up to 15% to 25% of newborns are born to teen mothers.

In Colombia, from 1986 and 1995, the
rate of teen motherhood increased from 70 to 89 per 1000 young women,
and in 2005 it reached 90 teens per 1000.

Elvia Vargas, director of the "Family and Sexuality" research group at the Universidad de los Andes, not only believes that sexual education
programs have failed in Colombia, but believes that such programs
had a counterproductive impact.

Vargas based her opinion on the research
carried out by "Family and Sexuality" on the sexual education programs
implemented since 1993, which — according to the study — were focused
on providing information related to contraception, sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy and abortion.

The study concluded that such educational
actions did not consider that sexual decisions processes are also
influenced by social and cultural roles men and women are expected to play. And the information was provided without
taking into account the needs of young people, such recognition, acceptance
and reaffirmation. In addition, financial and human resources available
were unstable across the different governments and institutions in charge
its implementation.

Moreover, according to Vargas, sexual
education programs were based in the idea that most of Colombians under
18 years old had sexual relations, which in reality only a third part
of them had started their sexual lives.

At last, but not least, the research
found that girls, boys and young Colombians do not have confidential
and safe environments — family, school, health center — to express their
doubts and questions regarding sexuality, because parents, teachers
and health care staff face difficulties to bring timely, accurate and
scientific answers — since they also lack sexual education.

This study is likely to be the most
comprehensive one, since it analyzed 55 studies carried out from 1997
to 2004 on teen motherhood and sexual education, and developed various
quantitative evaluations plus surveys.

However, for some hands-on practioners,
such as Profamilia, a private health care provider and pioneer
of sexual and reproductive health in Colombia, sexual education programs
have not failed but the institutions and organizations responsible for developing it — that is to say to educational institutions, public health
system and families.

Profamilia, which carry out a program
for youth, focused in counseling and access to contraception methods,
defends their programs underlying that Profamilia brings technical advisory
— based in sexual rights — to public educational institutions.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education,
the body who directed a sexual education policy which seems to have failed,
supports Profamilia’s strategy as a complementary project to sexual
education programs, which have to be developed by the educational community.

Currently, the Ministry of Education
is implementing a pilot pedagogic methodology called Education for Sexuality
and Citizenship Building in a number of cities. This curriculum is a
transversal program based on civil rights, and covers sexuality, and
reproductive and sexual health. Teachers are being trained to develop
innovative ways to develop this transversal program. If this
program brings successful outcomes, it could be used not only for the
rest of Colombia but throughout Latin America.

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