Guardians' lack of knowledge about the sexual health of their adolescent children coupled with their unwillingness to discuss sexual issues with their children is making the adolescents vulnerable to many health risks, speakers observed at a roundtable yesterday.
They also called for public-private partnership to educate guardians and teachers and create social awareness among the masses about the issue.
They also urged the government to include the issue under the mainstream health sector and introduce sexual health education at school level.
"Adolescence brings about major changes in the body of a young person. It also creates huge mental pressure on them. Lack of education about the issue makes them vulnerable to many health risks as they are not being prepared to cope with the situation," said MM Niaz Uddin, director general of the Directorate General of Family Planning (DGFP), who was addressing as the chief guest.
The roundtable titled "Adolescents' sexual health: Role of guardians" was organised by the Bangla daily Prothom Alo with assistance from Canadian International Development Agency and Plan Bangladesh at Prothom Alo's head office in the city.
Niaz urged the media to come forward for creating mass awareness on the issue since the government initiative alone is deemed insufficient to ensure significant progress over the issue.
Dhaka University (DU) psychology department Prof Dr Mehtab Khanam called for educating guardians about parenting since guardians generally do not bother to act considering the growth of their children.
She also said teachers' training on the issue should be arranged while home education should be made mandatory for both boys and girls.
While presenting the keynote paper, Dr Tahmina Mirza, project manager of the Plan Bangladesh's project related to adolescent sexual health, showed that 47 percent of about 4 crore adolescents, between the ages of 10 and 19, of the country are married, implying that they are already leading their sexual life.
These adolescents are becoming parents while lacking complete understanding about their sexual health, said the paper.
Dr Zahir Uddin Ahmed, former director general of Bangladesh Paribar Porikolpona Samity, emphasised on making the public infrastructure offering health service friendly to adolescents.
Recalling memory from his adolescence days, DU Prof AKM Nurunnabi said, "Back then, the chapter on sexual organ was overlooked by our school teachers and we were asked to finish the chapter at home. And, the scenario is almost same nowadays as our mindset has not changed."
Mohammad Sharif, MCH and line director, highlighted another incident in which Bangladesh did not respond to a donor agency offer to supply birth-control products to schools, while Pakistan accepted the same offer.
DGFP Program Manager Ishrat Jahan said that even media is overlooking the issue simply as it involves the issue of sex.
WHO representative Rabeya Khatun emphasised on coordinating activities between the department of family planning and the health directorate to address the issue.
Plan Bangladesh's Health Adviser Iftekhar Hasan Khan called for public and private partnership to address the issue alongside child marriage and birth control programs.
Syeda Selina Parvin, Hasab team leader, said the government could not make significant progress over the issue though it has been working since 1994 as all the government activities had been based on projects. She urged to include the issue into mainstream health sector.
Prothom Alo Joint Editor Abdul Quayum moderated the roundtable while ICDDR,B assistant scientist Dr Kamrun Nahar, Plan Bangladesh's Country Project Manager Dr Selim Amin, Population Council Senior Program Officer Laila Rahman and lawyer Salma Ali attended among others.