With the concept of innocence being practiced by parents, inadequate sex education of young children may lead to unwanted pregnancies. Unsafe sexual practices, of which children are ignorant of, may also land these children in dangerous grounds. Since 1995 there have been significant increases in the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases. The rises were steepest in the 16-19 year old age group. It was also found that half of those under-16 years of age who are sexually active do not use contraception the first time they have sex.
Studies revealed that four million teenagers in the world are infected with sexually transmitted diseases with half of the forty thousand new HIV infections a year occur in people under twenty-five years old (SRE Guidance, 2000). It is unclear whether these children had any awareness of the consequences which follow unprotected sexual intercourse. These alarming figures tell us that the right messages and values are yet to be instilled in the minds of young people, in particular, children.
Children may be subjected to sexual abuse even without their awareness. Children may be overly trusting and would not be able to differentiate between friendly gestures and contacts with sexual intentions. According to a recent British government study, children are at a much greater risk of sexual abuse from relatives and family friends than from predatory paedophiles. A survey showed that some 68 percent of attackers knew their victims and 13 percent were related to them. Only 18 percent were strangers. In 1991 a survey was done by the Child Abuse Studies Unit of the University of North London and revealed that one in two girls (59%) and one in four boys (27%) will experience child sexual abuse by the time they are 18. Thus, it is crucial to equip children at least with substantial sexual knowledge to identify what constitutes sexual abuse.
Inadequate knowledge of homosexuality can also be due to overprotection of children’s innocence. Homosexuality has always been a sensitive and avoided issue. As mentioned in the Report on Sex and Relationship Education in Schools, a Year 10 boy in an all-boys school said, ‘We never talk about homosexuality. There are over a thousand boys in this school and it must be an issue for some of them but the staff seem to be scared to talk about it.’ When children suspect themselves to have such homosexual tendencies, they may feel isolated and lost and may have difficulties coming to terms with their own sexuality.
There is strong evidence to suggest that gay men and lesbians have higher rates of suicide and attempted suicide than the general population. Young gay people may face a number of pressures due to their sexuality. These include problems arising from society’s attitude towards them, the direct experience of facing discrimination and the distinct possibility of being stigmatized. If proper education on homosexuality was reinforced, it will reduce the homophobic attitudes among those in the society and thus reduce the incidence of suicidal rates.
In conclusion, it is no doubt that the term ‘innocence’ is socially constructed in some way. It is evidenced that children should be given sex education and teachings on relationship issues. Such an education will help and support young people through their physical, emotional and moral development. Young people will learn to respect themselves and others and grow up with confidence from childhood through adolescence into adulthood. It enables young people to understand the reasons for delaying sexual activity. It builds up knowledge and skills which are particularly important today because of the many different and conflicting pressures on young people.
Withholding sexual education from children would be unfair if based on the notion that they are supposed to be innocent and free from sexual notions. By equipping children with the right knowledge, not only can they make informed decisions about their sexual intentions, they will also learn how to respect themselves and others. Thus if we decided to adopt the ‘ostrich’ approach where one would be reluctant to address such a pressing issue while choosing to be continually obsessed with the thought that children should stave off the issue of sexuality, even more so for homosexuality, then we are definitely bringing enormous harms to children, no matter how much it would be to our disbelief.
1) Mary Jane Kehily and Heather Montgomery (2003) ‘Innocence and Experience’ in Martin, W. & Heather, M. (ed) Understanding childhood, Chichester, John Wiley & Sons/The Open University http://www.newint.org