Forum: Teach students the power of consent in sexuality education

I am heartened by parents teaching their children about consent from a young age (Teaching boys gender equality, June 14).

However, we should not leave it up to conscientious parents to educate their children about the importance of consent.

The Ministry of Education should consider explicitly introducing consent education in both the sexuality education and character and citizenship education curricula so that children can grow up in a consent culture that values respect for boundaries and bodily autonomy.

Over the past few months, I have facilitated community discussions with students, parents and teachers as part of the Association of Women for Action and Research's Reimagining Equality dialogue programme. Participants of all ages and backgrounds unanimously agreed that consent should be explicitly taught to students from a young age in an age-appropriate manner.

As a teacher shared at one of these dialogues, we fail our children and young people if we do not teach them that they have the power to give consent or the duty to ask for consent.

For example, while pupils at the lower primary level are currently taught what is inappropriate touching, they should also learn about their right to say no to unwanted touch from classmates and adults, even in social settings, and the importance of consent in such situations.

By fostering a strong consent culture, children will also feel more empowered to speak up and seek help if they are sexually abused at an early stage. This may also deter potential sexual predators and reduce the prevalence of such cases in our society.

The concept of consent in the context of intimate relationships should also be explicitly introduced in secondary school. While students are currently taught that respect and responsible decision-making are important in relationships, they need to also learn the importance of asking for consent if they wish to engage in any intimate activity.

While some parents may fear that discussing these topics openly may encourage their children to experiment with or engage in sexual activity, we must not avoid teaching children and young people about consent to assuage these concerns.

According to a 2018 Unesco review of 87 studies on sexuality education programmes, there was no evidence that programmes which openly discuss sex and consent would lead to earlier sexual activity among young people.

In fact, such programmes may be more effective in reducing unwanted pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted infections.

We must do better to build a safer world for the future generation. An important first step is by fostering a strong culture of consent not only at home but also in our schools.

Daryl Yang Wei Jian

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