A sexual health education pilot aimed at young people will be launched in Hulhumalé before the end of this year, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) has told Minivan News.
“There is no comprehensive sexual education in the schools,” said the source. “We have to keep talking about these issues, about how to keep young people safe.”
The pilot will provide a comprehensive sexual health and general health service to all young people aged 10-24 years old.
According to the agency’s Reproductive Health Unit (RHU), the the project will attempt to bridge gaps in sexual and reproductive health services for young people.
A member of an established health service provider, who wished to remain anonymous, highlighted age-appropriate guidelines as key barriers to sexual health education.
The comments come after the body of a new-born baby was discovered in a house in Maafanu earlier this week. Local media reported that the 18-year-old mother, currently in police custody, committed infanticide after having hidden her pregnancy.
The national guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health and Gender prohibit some elements of sexual health education – including condoms and safe sex – until students are 18-years-old.
“There is a standard which is maintained by the health sector. There are a lot of cultural and religious barriers in providing this information,” the source told Minivan News.
“Unless those issues are not tackled, the stigma in accessing [health education] will not happen.”
Reticence in the health sector is mirrored in the family sphere, argued the source, who stated that family members are reluctant to speak candidly with their children about sexual health.
“There are some views of parents that if you talk about sexual health, they might go and do it.”
With no accurate information from schools or parents, the student will often turn to peers or the internet for support on sexual health, noted the source, which results in the rapid spread of mis-information.
Under the 2008 constitution the Maldives is a 100 percent Muslim country, with national guidelines surrounding sexual and reproductive health being strongly influenced by religion.
A report conducted by the Department of National Planning in 2013 concluded that religious beliefs had been the reason behind an increase in trends such as a preference for home schooling, refusal of vaccination and other medical services for women.
Expressing a similar view, the health sector source noted that religion had contributed to some of the barriers in delivering sexual and reproductive health education.
“That’s a huge barrier actually on sexual health education, because there’s certain beliefs on providing information, or on family planning, on safe abortion,” stated the source.
“They [religious scholars] have a lot of myths related to sexual reproductive health.”
The source suggestion that there is support for the assimilation of religion into sexual health education delivery, but that disagreements between religious scholars had meant that progress was slow.
The RHU project is underpinned by the imminent release of their new guidelines, National Standards for Adolescent and Youth Friendly Health Services for Young People.
These guidelines outlines the key standards for health education for all young people aged 10 – 24 years, ensuring that they will “enter the productive age in the fullest possible wellbeing.”
Noting the closure of previous similar projects, such as the Youth Health Café, the RHU noted that there are a number of difficulties in launching a new healthcare service.
The RHU source also wished to remain anonymous, reflecting the strong emotions provoked by discussion of sex education.
“Convincing people to initiate something in health facility is not easy,” they stated.
“It will be difficult. At present it is very difficult, unless the person is coming seeking the services it is difficult.”
When asked if they felt that young people are getting the right information at the right age, RHU representatives responded with a firm “no”.
“Not all. They are not getting that information. As far as access, there is no access.”
Issues regarding a lack of support services for sexual and reproductive health in the Maldives have been well-documented in the past.
A report entitled ‘Maldives Operational Review for the ICPD Beyond 2014‘, carried out by the Department of National Planning (DNP), claimed that incidents of infanticide and unsafe abortions are symptoms of a lack of sexual education in young Maldivians.
The report identified, “clear indicators of the imperative need to provide access to information on sexual reproductive health and reproductive health services to the sexually active adolescents