A lot of parents were relieved to hear that Education Secretary Leonor Briones has thumbed down the planned distribution of condoms in high schools, saying the Department of Health is the agency tasked with this responsibility.
DoH and its secretary Paulyn Ubial has come under fire for its proposal to distribute condoms to senior high school students to check the spread of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) cases especially among young people. Critics of the DoH proposal say the distribution of condoms would convey the message to students that engaging in premarital sex is acceptable as long as they “protect” themselves with the contraceptives.
Briones said the primary role of the Education department is to enhance gender sensitivity and strengthen the basic education curriculum—and rightly so, because the kids need to have the right mindset when it comes to sexual relationships. Teens have to drum it in their head that a few moments of sexual pleasure could result in a lifetime of hell.
Aside from the possibility of the girl getting pregnant (and then a shotgun wedding, who knows?), there is the threat of these kids acquiring sexually transmitted diseases. But like many parents, we disagree with the DoH strategy to distribute condoms. No matter how “confidential” or discreet the process would be—word will still get around on who asked for condoms—which would subject these teens to untold embarrassment if not ridicule and condemnation by their peers. To be fair, Ubial had ben saying that abstinence is still the best method to prevent unwanted pregnancies, but distributing condoms to young people seems to give a contradictory message.
In defending her position, Ubial talked about global studies reportedly showing that providing condoms did not promote promiscuity and instead, made teens who are sexually active more cautious. Duh?
Just what are those studies, when were these made and who conducted them—these people have yet to see. Much earlier, the DoH said they have already piloted the school distribution in Quezon City, but we share the sentiment of many parents that providing condoms would not give our youth the “necessary like skills” that would keep them from behaving in a risky and irresponsible manner.
We are more inclined to believe the position of Dr. Minguita Padilla (of the Eye Bank Foundation) that distribution is a “knee-jerk” reaction that could eventually backfire. Citing Mexico and Brazil where attitudes among males is very traditional (sexual and reproductive issues are the concern of women, not men; child care is the domain of women; men decide when and where sex happens, etc.), Dr. Padilla disclosed that international and local NGOs engaged in programs that sought to redefine attitudes on “what it means to be a man”—making sure that being responsible, monogamous, respectful towards women are emphasized, as well as engaging in safe and loving sex. Women were also targeted through programs that highlighted positive perceptions of women about themselves.
The results were encouraging, with changed attitudes that translated into more responsible behavior towards sex and sexual relationships. Other countries have since adapted the program, the eye doctor said, disclosing that a manual and guide is available and downloadable from the Promundo website (promundoglobal.org) for teachers and facilitators to use.
We agree with Dr. Padilla that condoms belong in health centers, not public high schools, and that distribution is not the right solution because it reinforces the wrong message that sex is permissible among young people if they are careful and make sure that they are “protected.” A change in mindset is the lasting, and more sensible solution—and this is the challenge to both the DepEd and the DoH.
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