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Absence of sexual education
Carmen Herrera
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Lack of awareness and guidance are leading to an increase in adolescent pregnancies.

Sexual education is not mandatory in Nicaragua’s schools. Moreover, there is an implicit agreement between the government and the Catholic Church to prohibit sex education in schools — an issue that has become more acute under the current administration of Sandinista President Daniel Ortega, who stated in a recent Constitutional reform that Nicaragua is a “Christian, socialist and solidary” country.

In 2003, under the liberal administration of former President Enrique Bolaños (2002-2006), the Ministry of Education (MINED) removed the “Manual for Life” — known in Spanish as the “Manual Para la Vida,” a teachers’ guide to sex education which was going to be approved in that time by the government —, after ultraconservative Catholic and Evangelical groups along with church leaders carried out an intense campaign against the document, accusing MINED of “promoting abortion and homosexuality and aiming to dissolve families.”

The timidity with which the Ortega government has taken on the issue of sex education is rooted in the alliance it keeps with Cardinal Miguel Obando Bravo, chief architect of the Nicaraguan Catholic Church’s campaign against sex education.

At the time, Cardinal Obando celebrated the manual’s exclusion, announcing that he had “a committee of theologians and moralists to rewrite the document,” which ultimately they did not do.

The political decision to not to provide sex education in schools has led to statistics from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) showing that between 2000 and 2010 in Nicaragua 367,095 pregnancies occurred in girls under the age 18; according to the Ministry of Health (MINSA), 27.1 percent of births in 2010 were in girls and women between 10 and 19 years old.

The National Strategy for Sexual and Reproductive Health in 2009 noted with concern the number of documented pregnancies for girls and women 10 to 19 years old increased from 33,742 in 2007 to 35,945 in 2010, an increase of 6.5 percent.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child pushed Nicaragua in 2010 “to take all necessary measures to address the recommendations (...) that have not been sufficiently implemented, including those related to the implementation of legislation, the National Plan of Action and coordination, data collection, age for marriage, birth registration, corporal punishment, child abuse and neglect, and teenage pregnancies.”

It added that the country needed “to ensure that adolescents have access to safe, legal and confidential sexual and reproductive health services, including information, counseling and termination of pregnancy, and that contraception is widely available.” The government, faithful to a communication policy based on secrecy and withholding public comment on the clarifications and strategic approaches requested by civil society and the international cooperation, did not respond to these recommendations.

Alarming data
According to the 2013 Human Development Report from the United Nations Development Programme, the fertility rate among teens in Nicaragua is 104.9 births for every 1,000 women ages 15 to 19.

Rubén Reyes, Coordinator for the Program to Strengthen Youth Groups of the Meeting Point Foundation (Fundación Puntos de Encuentro), which focuses on defending women’s rights, told Latinamerica Press that number “instead of decreasing, like we in civil society strive for, has grown. This reality has to do with how we have not managed to penetrate the culture of sex education for people to see sexuality as an expression of pleasure with protection, and not closely linked to reproduction.”

The State of World Population 2013, a report published by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which addresses child motherhood and the challenges of teen pregnancy, states, “When a girl becomes pregnant, her present and future change radically, and rarely for the better. Her education may end, her job prospects evaporate, and her vulnerabilities to poverty, exclusion and dependency multiply.”

Underlying causes for teen pregnancy include, according to UNFPA: child marriage, gender inequality, obstacles to human rights, poverty, sexual violence and coercion, national policies  restricting access to contraception and age-appropriate sex education, lack of access to education and reproductive health services, and underinvestment in adolescent girls’ human capital.

Civil society organizations agree that for Nicaragua, it remains a challenge to implement sex education as public policy. But in this vacuum, families expect the school to take on this responsibility and vice versa.

Reference material
In “Education on Sexuality: Basic Guide for Teachers,” published by MINED, the methodological framework dictates that the material “is another step in strengthening comprehensive education. This is not a textbook to teach classes, it should be used as reference material on the topics of sex education. It aims to contribute to the understanding and management of issues, providing guidelines and advice to facilitate the counseling work of teachers for students and their parents.”

Hence Reyes believes government policies leave the approach on sex education to the schools.

“Some schools have incorporated the issue and others do not, it is not mandatory from the Ministry of Education,” he said.

In Nicaragua, only 18 percent of primary and secondary schools use the government’s sex education guide, according to UNFPA.

The “Cairo+20-Nicaragua. National Diagnostic Report, 1994-2012,” published by the organization Sí Mujer, states, “there are no campaigns or public actions that promote the sexual and reproductive rights of adolescents. These initiatives are undertaken exclusively by organizations working with children, teens, youth and women’s organizations.”

María Mercedes Alemán is the coordinator for the Institute for Public Policy and Strategic Studies (IEEPP) teen pregnancy prevention campaign “The proof of love is trial by fire. So I protect myself!” that is currently being carried out in the department of Chontales (90 miles southeast of Managua) with the help of the Network of Women of Chontales. She told Latinamerica Press that a survey on the subject of sexual and reproductive health released in early March by the network showed that the issue of sexuality in schools is addressed based on the teachers’ experience, not from the theoretical foundations enshrined in United Nations conventions and ratified by national governments regarding the human rights of teenage girls and boys.

Also, during the survey, young people revealed that in the Ministry of Health (MINSA) health centers, campaigns to prevent common diseases were more publicized than information promoting the prevention of sexually transmitted infections and methods of protection against unwanted teen pregnancies. They also mentioned the centers did not investigate the cause of pregnancy in girls and teens — especially that due to their age, it is probably the result of sexual abuse. —
Latinamerica Press.


Health centers do not promote information campaigns on protection methods to prevent teen pregnancy. (Photo: Sergio Cruz)
Latinamerica Press / Noticias Aliadas
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