POSITIVE: There is now greater awareness about the need to educate children about sex from a young age
EARLY this week, a news report about the shenanigans of a 9-year-old in Kedah raised eyebrows and sent an uncomfortable ripple across the gut of parents nationwide.
The boy threatened his teacher -- not with the usual slashing of car tyres or burning down of classrooms -- but with rape. Apparently, he had called his teacher on the phone and then followed up with an SMS that read: "Teacher, wait I will rape you, soon." All because his friend was not appointed class monitor.
Later, it was found that the schoolboy did not fully understand the meaning of the word. He might not have comprehended the full implications of his actions but four boys, all of them not much older, certainly did not too long ago. Remember the rape and sodomy of a 7-year-old girl, also in Kedah, three years ago? The boys detained were between 10 and 13.
Children are knowledgeable and sophisticated nowadays.
Kids these days are no longer the wide-eyed, giggly innocents they were just over a decade ago: the Internet, TV programmes and inappropriate music videos by their idols have assured that. Parents are sometimes perturbed to see how sophisticated and knowledgeable their children can be when it comes to matters of the heart and other parts of the anatomy.
"We have had a case where a student intent on playing truant got her 'father' to come to school to inform us that she was unwell.
"The 'dad' turned out to be her boyfriend. The girl was just 16, the boyfriend old enough to pass off as her father," a secondary school principal shared recently.
And then there are the date rapes. There is a rising number of such cases involving teens through the years. Most of the perpetrators were people known to the teenagers, those they met on the Internet or friends of friends who sent them text messages to meet in shopping complexes. Many of them had sex on the first date.
Now, SMSing has gone the way of the Pahang fish-eating dinosaur. Smartphones and mobile apps have made it easier to arrange for meet ups. All it takes is a swipe, a touch or a shake. The apps can help teens, or anyone else interested, to discover new friends in real time, based on the location pinpointed in their devices. It's all rather ominous and hair-raising for those from the generations pre-Y.
Going by their increasingly early exposure to what was deemed taboo for their age just a generation ago, it is important that basic information on reproduction how a human body works, marriage, and the dangers of abortion and sexually-transmitted diseases are conveyed to the younger generation, including those in primary school.
There has been much wrangling, but the authorities have remained wary about introducing sex education as a separate subject in school.
Nevertheless, what is heartening is that elements of it have already been assimilated into various subjects in school. Pupils are, for example, being introduced to seksualiti (sexuality) in the Pendidikan Jasmani and Kesihatan subject under the newly-introduced Kurikulum Standard Sekolah Rendah, or KSSR. Children as young as 10 are now taught what haid (menstruation), akil baligh (puberty), pubis and ihtilam (a dream that causes sexual arousal) are all about. Some parents cringed over the very matter-of-fact, in-your-face explanations in the textbooks, but most have lauded the bold step taken to explain this most delicate subject matter to children.
"I sat my 10-year-old daughter down to talk to her about puberty, but she told me 'I already know' and proceeded to tell me what she had been taught. I was surprised but glad that it is being addressed in schools, by teachers," a relieved mother noted.
Even if not as a subject on its own, sexual knowledge and education can still be effectively conveyed to students. Teachers, too, appear no longer as flustered or find it as excruciating to talk to their charges about the birds and bees. Indeed, being reticent is no longer a desirable or acceptable trait.
But now that it is being addressed in schools, parents should not have a sense that the matter is out of their hands, no longer their responsibility and is best left to the schools. They remain the best people to teach kids about morality and the ramifications of sex and sexuality.
Chok Suat Ling is New Sunday Times editor.NST Opinion Columnist 20/02/2014