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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Teach sex education at all UAE schools, experts say

A Ministry of Education official, doctors, school principals and social specialists agree that having no sex education, which is the case at some UAE schools at the moment, leaves children unaware of personal boundaries.

Sex education should be taught at schools across the country, removing the taboo surrounding the subject and giving children access to reliable information appropriate to their age group.

A Ministry of Education official, doctors, school principals and social specialists agree that having no sex education, which is the case at some UAE schools at the moment, leaves children entering puberty unaware of personal boundaries and may leave them potentially vulnerable to sexual predators.

A culture of not talking about sex among many adults in the Arab world and parents not speaking to their children about it means that schools need to address the topic.

“There must be many awareness programmes targeting not only children but also parents to prepare parents to have proper answers that are suitable for the ages of their children,” said Hiba Mohammed, educational control specialist at the Ministry of Education.

Officials believe that age-appropriate sex education should begin in primary school and continue into high school.

“We have specialists who draft and determine curriculum, therefore sex education to raise students’ awareness must also be done by specialists,” said Ms Hiba.

Dr Thaer Al Ani, a paediatrician at Ajman Speciality Hospital, highlighted a case where a mother visited him recently in shock after her nine-year-old son was sexually abused by his siblings.

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The case highlighed a broader concern about how few boundaries were established.

“They are about two years older than he is, how did they get whatever information they have about this topic if not from the internet?” he said.

The mother said she found out when she noticed her son was isolated and withdrawn.

Dr Al Ani said that the case showed why it is important to give children information about sex, appropriate to their age.

“And this is not a responsibility of parents alone - it’s everybody’s responsibility - educational institution, media and doctors,” he said.

In some schools, parents are sent letters informing them that the subject will be touched upon, but they can opt out of such classes and there is no mandatory programme.

Dr Yusra Abu Hamed, a public health specialist, urged schools to introduce the short cartoon films made by the Ministry of Education that teach children between the ages of three and five about their bodies, how to identify when an adult is doing something wrong and what to do about it.

Speaking about the need for the issue to be addressed at school, she said: “It’s a much-needed move and will help not only protect children from sexual assaults.”

School principals said that a specific sex education programme for pupils is a good idea, as “mystery” surrounds the issue for many.

Mustafa Al Moussa, of International Private School of Knowledge in Sharjah, said that schools broadly have “official” programmes in place to teach children about sex.

At his school there are occasional talks if a situation requires one but, despite no such incidents at his school, he strongly supports mandatory sex education.

Dr Ameena Al Majed, principal of Al Qadisiya School in Abu Dhabi, said it is vital that children learn more than they do now.

“For children, there is mystery surrounding this topic since, in our culture, it’s not allowed to talk about it – we even change the names of their organs and don’t allow our kids to ask about them or touch them as they bathe,” she said.

“Our daughters may know nothing until they get married; that’s why we have to educate them from kindergarten to high school but through an approach that does not jeopardise our traditions and culture, an approach that provides each age group with the information needed at that age.”

Some parents are aware of the importance of speaking to their children on such topics and have done, Ms Al Majed said, but “they have their jobs and life responsibilities, therefore I support introducing a mandatory sex education programme in schools”.

School pupils said that, in the absence of any official information about sex, they turn to the internet.

“Where does anyone think we will get our information from? Of course, from the internet,” said Grade 9 pupil Adam Abdulhameed, who attends a private school.

“Google is where we go, me and all my friends, to find out answers for what we can’t ask about since it’s taboo to talk about sexual topics.

“Me and my friends would feel much safer taking the information from the people we trust the most - parents and teachers.”