RECENTLY, when asked to comment on cases of abandoned babies, Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister Hannah Yeoh touched on the importance of providing sex education to children. She said sex education should start from young, as early as 4 years old and by parents.
Over the last two decades, sex education has been taboo for the young, and parents avoid discussing it. There are several reasons for this:
FIRST, the negative perception that people have of the word “sex”; and,
SECOND, the misunderstanding about the meaning and content of sex education.
Many equate sex education with teaching children how to have sex.
Avoiding sex discussions with children will not help as they are discussing it with their friends. Information about sex and pornographic videos are available.
As parents, we need to talk to our children to ensure that they get the right information.
The important thing to remember is that it must be the right information about sex education that is taught, for example, the reproductive system and how babies are conceived.
Children should be taught about modesty and how to protect their bodies and why.
As Yeoh says, a 4-year-old child needs to know the difference between a “good” and “bad” touch to prevent them from becoming victims of sexual crimes, which normally are committed by adults related to them.
Dr Abdullah Nasih Ulwan, an Islamic scholar who specialises in education and tarbiyah (nurturing), in his book, Child Education in Islam, wrote that parents are responsible for teaching their children faith education, ethical education, physical education, mental education, psychological education, social education and sexual education.
Clearly, one of the parental responsibilities is to teach sex education to children. But how many parents are aware of this? How many know the content of sex education from an Islamic perspective? Do they know how to impart the knowledge to children?
In Islam, sex education is about teaching children from an early age what is lawful and unlawful for them when they reach puberty so that they are not driven by desires or led by debauchery.
Sex education in Islam encompasses the teaching of manners in asking permission to enter the parents’ bedroom; the teaching of manners in looking at the opposite sex; keeping children away from objects that can arouse them sexually; educating children on hukm , or legal ruling governing puberty and maturity; explaining to them Islam’s stand on marriage; teaching children about abstinence in situations where they cannot get married; and talking to children about sex .
Dr Ulwan says parents are the best persons to impart sex knowledge to children.
Moreover, Islam has outlined that the teaching be done in phases, that is, according to the children’s ages. It is a continuous process starting from preschool.
In the United States, for example, the involvement of parents in providing sex education to children began more than a decade ago through parent intervention programmes. These programmes have reduced risky sexual behaviours in adolescents.
The programmes have restored the function of teaching sex education to parents. Perhaps this could be emulated in our education system? Have sex education for parents, engage them in discussions and forums to raise awareness ab out the subject.
Parents need to be empowered so that they know the content of sex education in Islam and how to communicate it to their children.
Isn’t it time we educated parents so that they can do their part in teaching sex education to the children?
SITI FATIMAH ABDUL RAHMAN
Senior fellow, Centre for Economics and Social Studies, Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia