In an interview with the Big Indian, Anju Kishinchandani, founder of sex-education startup UnTaboo answered some questions on why sex-education is important for children in India.
Anju Kishinchandani is a certified sex educator from Mumbai, India, and is also a double graduate in Law and Mass Communication. She has worked for many years as a journalist and later moved on as a copywriter before accidentally stumbling upon the field of sex education and founding her company ‘UNTABOO’ which is dedicated to Sex, sexuality & safety education.
She has authored two non- fiction books and is currently working on her series of books on sex education for children and parents. With the intention of reaching out to a larger number of children, she launched her Play on puberty ‘GROWING UP’ which has garnered rave reviews and has had a successful run of 25 shows in 2 years.
BI: Is it okay to give sex-education to a 5-year old? What kind of sex-ed would you be giving?
AK: It’s important to understand that the term ‘Sex Education’ does not mean talking to a child about sex. At least not to begin with! This term misleads people because of the word ‘sex’ in it. This word gets so magnified, that people do not even see the word ‘education’ which is attached to it.
Sex education is about education which gives age-appropriate information about the physical, emotional and social dimensions of growing up.
Thus for a 5-year-old, sex education would be a talk about their body, understanding the concept of privacy & their personal space, the concept of okay & not okay touch, while simultaneously equipping them with tips to keep themselves safe.
BI: Describe some of the exercises you do or how you work?
AK: We have different programs for children based on their age and also gender at times. These programs are for 5 to 18-year-olds.
The workshops are single session – spanning 2.5 hours to 6 hours, depending on the program.
Games, quizzes, competitions, audio –video aids, role plays coupled with lectures make the entire session informative and interesting for the kids. They walk out with all their questions answered, feeling more confident and positive.
All sessions are followed by a combined parent-child session to help break the ice and enable parents to carry forward this communication at home.
Post that, there are WhatsApp support groups to further answer any queries they have.
BI: How has sex-ed helped the youth in India? And how will you be planning to contribute to it?
AK: Unfortunately, we cant say how sex-ed has helped youth in India because we don’t have any sex–ed to speak of in the country. A few odd kids or schools having it does not really count for much.
However, there are some statistics which are a cause for concern. A study states that the average age at which a child in India watches porn is 11 and 14 is the age for sexual experimentation in some metros. Another study suggests that 50% of kids in India have faced sexual abuse at some point in their life!
Now, these worrisome statistics are there in a country with no sex education, so how correct is it for parents to think that sex education might make the child experiment. In fact, age-appropriate sex education will make the child well informed and delay experimentation and risky behaviours.
We at UnTaboo strongly believe that and offer FREE AWARENESS TALKS for adults – on unblocking the mind blocks against sex education and breaking the wall of silence at home. These talks are aimed at answering the ifs and buts and tackling the hesitations parents have about the impact of sex education.
Two years back, I realised that there were so many people to reach out to, but we could touch so few through our sessions. That thought gave birth to my Play on Puberty & Safety called GROWING UP.
Growing Up is a musical play and a complete laugh riot. This play has broken ground in making an ‘uncomfortable subject’ more approachable for children and their parents. It teaches children about the changes at puberty in a fun and entertaining manner, while also teaching them to keep themselves safe. It has also paved the way for parents to break the ice and start discussions with their kids on these topics which are perceived as sensitive.
It’s been one of the most satisfying projects of my life. Every screening of my play and the response to it evokes in me the same feeling of pride and satisfaction that my child’s achievements do. We have had 25 shows so far and hope to take this Play to every school across India.
BI: Why do you think people will pay you for giving sex-ed to kids? Do Indian parents value sex-ed?
AK: Today, the high exposure of kids to adult content coupled with silence on the subject is creating havoc. Indians are realising that the decreasing age of sexual experimentation and increasing rate of sexual crimes is the result of easy access to adult content plus a combination of the above two factors.
More and more people are beginning to understand that age appropriate and structured sex education could be one of the best solutions to this problem.
However, most people in India have grown up with little or no sex education and thus there are lots of hesitations and mind blocks against sex ed. Even though they want to provide it to their children, they find themselves ill-equipped to do so.
That’s where we step in. Since inception in 2012, we have seen a steady rise in the number of kids who come for our workshop and have literally seen the shift in attitude towards sex education. So though parents are now valuing sex ed, the number of parents willing to talk themselves is still very low and they are more than happy to pay someone they trust to do the job for them!
BI: What are the challenges you’ll probably face, in bringing-sex-ed to Indians?
AK: The biggest challenge is the mind blocks against it. Parents have tons of hesitations – “Is it the right age to talk to my child? Will it corrupt my child? Will it put things in his mind which is not there? Will it make my child experiment?”
Sometimes there is resistance from the kids to go to a sex-ed workshop – they find it embarrassing or fear they’ll be ridiculed by their peers to admit that they’ve been to one.
Schools struggle to finish their annual curriculum and find it difficult to fit in this additional program. Parental opposition is something else they have to deal with.
Some schools do have sex education, but its very unstructured (a one-time session, maybe once a year for a particular grade). These sessions are conducted by either a sex educator, counsellor or a gynaecologist.
A large number of students in a single session (as many as 300-400 at times) makes it difficult for the facilitator and personally, I feel, the sessions are not as effective.
And one of the most craziest things is that sex education is actually banned in a lot of states in India!
BI: Why did you decide to start Untaboo?
I think the seed was sown in my teenage years when I discovered quite a few things accidentally which ideally my parents should have told me and I promised myself that I will be very open with my child when I have one.
So when that child of mine started to question me on the facts of life, I was desperate to provide those answers but found myself incapable of doing so for lack of right words and knowledge. All books in the market at that point of time were more adult-oriented – no one was talking to kids in the language they would understand. Being a writer, I decided to take the bull by the horn and pen a book myself on sex education for kids. Thus started my research and education, including a certification in sex educating and before I knew it, I was hooked.
Out of the Box – my company dedicated to sex education was launched in 2012. The only thought I had when I got into this space was that we desperately needed someone to speak to kids about all this in a language they understood and to remove the shame associated with it.
In these 5 years, we weathered rough storms but have also had huge waves of gratitude and appreciation come our way. That has kept us going.
When Out of the Box was started in 2012, Sex Education was an out of the box concept in India, but today it has become a necessity. However, we still have to break the taboos surrounding sex education and thus we have renamed and reinvented ourselves and are now known as UNTABOO.
We at Untaboo strongly feel that we as a society need to break the cultural taboos we have created against sex education and recognize and accept that it is the need of the hour. Our mission is to break these taboos and make sex education accessible to each and every child inIndiaa. Join us in being an Untabooer!
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