In 2002, the National Council of Intelligence in the U.S. published an article predicting that India would have over 20-25 million AIDS cases by 2010. The response from the Indian government and the population, a country with the world’s largest population of young people aged between 10 and 19, 243 million, was widespread concern and fear. This alarm translated into setting up of the School AIDS Education Program (SAEP) under the National AIDS Control Organization (NACO). As defined by the NACO’s National AIDS Initiative Program (NAIP), Phase II of the School AIDS Education Program was to “build up life skills of adolescents and address issues relating to growing up.” All channels of communication were engaged to spread awareness about HIV/AIDS, promote safe behaviors and increase condom usage. Though the policy was to require that sex ed be a component in the curricula of all accredited secondary schools, this has not been the case.
India faces several challenges in implementing a successful sex education program. Sex education in schools is varied across the country and is complicated further with teacher and school policies dictating what can and cannot be introduced in the already non structured class. In addition, with the decline in the percent increase in HIV infection in the overall population, the impetus for such programs have decreased further with over 12 states taking independent stands on banning the Adolescent Education Program (AEP) and the SAEP. Most troubling, in May of 2014, the Indian Health Minister published his views ) in which he called for a ban on the “so called sex education” within the country, causing widespread uproar throughout the country .
From the year 2001 to 2004, I functioned in the role of a peer educator at a school in North East India which allowed me to collect, integrate and disseminate information primarily about HIV/AIDS and to integrate components of sex education as part of the SAEP. It also allowed me to observe the divergent nature of this special hour long class from normal curriculum and how the reaction of students changed when their educators held different roles. While SAEP faces challenges from cultural taboo, stigmas and personal opinions from bureaucrats, it is far from reaching its objectives, towards functioning as a critical component of change in the way India perceives and integrates sex education into its school system. As a student and as a peer educator I feel there is a need to revise and reintegrate AEP into the core curriculum, allowing education to play a critical role in improving future health among the youth in India.
Samapriya Roy is a 2nd year PhD student in the Department of Geography at Indiana University, with a MS in Geology and Bachelors education in Civil Engineering. He was also part of the School AIDS Education Program (SAEP) for 3 years during his higher education as part of NACO initiative in India.