Though adolescents are at the centre of the AIDS epidemic and India has 2.5 million people living with HIV – the largest number of infections in Asia – 11 of India’s 29 state governments have either banned or are in the process of dropping sex education from school programmes. This recently prompted India’s federal Minister for Women and Child Development, Renuka Chaudhary, to term India ‘a nation of hypocrites’.
Among major states that have banned sex education in state-run schools are Maharashtra and Gujarat in the west and Madhya Pradesh in the centre. Reasons included ‘overtly explicit teaching modules’ and ‘pictures that were too graphic’. Private schools are continuing with lessons, but many have watered them down to avoid controversy. Other states expecting the axe on sex education are Kerala and Karnataka in the south, both with high literacy rates and reputations for being progressive.
JVR Prasada Rao, regional director of UNAIDS, criticised the decision as ‘highly retrograde’. ‘What surprises me more than the silence of the Government of India is the lack of a strong response from civil society in India to this organized campaign,’ said Rao. ‘Except for a few assertions made on email and IT networks, hardly any voice of protest has been raised against these moves. Why? Very baffling indeed.’ There are 5.4 million people living with HIV in the Asia and Pacific region. Nearly a million new infections have occurred in the last two years, 50 per cent of which are among young people.Nitin Jugran Bahuguna/IPS