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In Kazakhstan the question of sexual and reproductive litteracy among teenagers is a burning, but constantly ingnored matter. In 2016 “4254 babies were born to fifteen- and sixteen-year-old girls” (CAP Fellows Paper 200, 2018, p. 1). Yet, these numbers do not fully represent the real picture: the reports on unregistered cases of birth, abortion and baby abandonment are regularly cropping up along with increase in the rate of sexually transmitted infections among teenagers (CAP Fellows Paper 200, 2018). These depressing figures might be a consequence of sex and reproduction topic being under taboo due to various cultural and religious reasons (it is shameful to discuss such topics). Although the government has made attempts to educate teenagers on sexual and reproductive health by creating laws and introducing pilot sexuality education course in several colleges, the situation is still aggrevating and requires urgent measures.
Several legislative steps were taken to solve the issue of sexual and reproductive illiteracy. These steps included the adoption of the Concept of Moral and Sexual Education in 2001, the Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan on Children’s Rights in 2002, the Law on Reproductive Rights of Citizens and Guarantees of Their Implementation in 2004, healthcase development programms “Salamatty Kazakhstan 2011–2015” and “Densaulyk 2016–2020”, the Concept of the State Youth Policy in 2013 (CAP Fellows Paper 200, 2018). Event though all these initiatives acknowledged the problem of sexual and reproductive illiteracy to some degree, prevailing majority of them did not provoke any particular actions that would change the situation. For instance, medical centers continue breaking “the principles of privacy and anonymity” and do not provide medical help to teenagers younger than 18 (when it comes to “sensitive” issues) unless they are accompanied by a parent (CAP Fellows Paper 200, 2018, p. 6). This makes teenagers avoid medical assisstance out of mistrust and fear and struggle alone in case of physical and mental health issues. Thus, teenagers resort to searching information on sexual and reproductive health on Internet where information is not always reliable (CAP Fellows Paper 200, 2018). More to this, great number of drugstores still refuse to sell contraceptions to teenagers which might be one of the reasons for high teenage birth rate (CAP Fellows Paper 200, 2018).
Another initiative proposed by local authorities was introduction of pilot sexual and reproductive literacy courses called “Valeologiya” in several colleges and even schools. This proposal was supported by both students and parents since they were unsure about correct way of approching the taboo topic. Although teenagers were able to discuss certain topics related to sexual and reproductive health, training was unsystematic and teaching was not monitored (Soros-Kazakhstan Fund, 2018). Moreover, the course demonstrated stereotyped thinking about genders and contributed to victim-building (Soros-Kazakhstan Fund, 2018). For instance, during the lessons, in role plays of sexual abuse mostly girls were positioned as victims (as though boys are never sexually abused) and were taught that the outcome of the situation depended solely on girls behaviour. It puts great amount of pressure and responsibility on girls: if a teenage girl is sexually harrassed or gets pregnant, that is her fault (logic which is supported by many people). In other words, even if the course has created chances for youth to learn about sexual and reproductive health, it still requires serious changes.
My point of view on this matter is that we need to take considerable steps towards educating youth about this taboo topic. Now, when some teenagers are persecuted by “uyat” (shame), they are not able to deal with the issues that have arosen because of sexual and reproductive illiteracy. Now, when teenage birth rate and abortion is increasing, especially in the southern part of Kazakhstan, and newborn babies are thrown away by frightened teenagers, we stay silent and blind (CAP Fellows Paper 200, 2018). It is high time for us to take the issue into serious consideration. I do think that teeangers have to be aware of situation and get reliable information from adults about sexual and reproductive health. Opponents of such view might say that it will pollute pure minds of young generation. However, teenagers do know about sex (thanks to Internet), and we have to make sure that this knowledge does not harm them.
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Who do you think is responsible for teaching teenagers about sexual and reproductive health?
CAP Fellows Paper 200. (2018). Overcoming a Taboo: Normalizing Sexuality Education in Kazakhstan. Washington, DC: Kabatova, K. Retrieved from http://centralasiaprogram.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Kabatova-CAP-Fellows-Paper-January-2018.pdf
Soros-Kazakhstan Fund. (2018). Половое просвещение в системе школьного образование Республики Казахстан: Учить нельзя, молчать? Almaty: Kabatova, K., & Marinin, S. Retrieved from http://ru.soros.kz/uploads/user_68/2018_03_04__03_49_24___87.pdf