Sex Ed in Azerbaijan: What happens if you are too shy to talk to children about sex
Sex in Azerbaijan is a taboo, especially when it comes to teenagers. This leads to a host of problems - from the loss of mutual understanding between parents and kids to bullying and unwanted pregnancy.
Talking about teenagers having sex is not common in Azerbaijan. The deathly silence on this topic is only broken when something truly horrible happens. The most recent event of this kind happened at the beginning of last year in a Baku school. Somebody posted an explicit video of two pupils online - an eleventh-grade boy and a seventh-grade girl - having sex. The video is believed to have been filmed on a camera that had been placed in the school's locker room by the boy. Presumably, the boy also circulated the video.
As was to be expected, social media users poured insults not on the boy, but on his 13-year-old partner. Some Azerbaijani media outlets themselves publicized the names and photos of the teenagers. The girl was expelled from her school and some said she tried to commit suicide; Meydan TV has not been able to locate the teenager's parents. Criminal proceedings were launched against the boy on charges of statutory rape and he was detained for three months. In August 2018, the investigation was completed and the case materials were sent to a court for consideration. But the case was hushed up - journalists did not manage to find out anything about further consideration of the case in the court.
Early marriage against "tainted honour"
Nazaket (name changed), 19, has been engaged for two years now and her wedding is coming up soon. Her fiance is one year her senior. The two young people started dating back in school.
"We dated secretly for two years. Dating is frowned upon in our country. Unlike in foreign countries, you cannot go and tell your mother openly that you are in love with a boy and dating him."
People found out about their relationship when Nazaket was in 11th grade and her boyfriend was preparing to leave to do his army service.
"Our acquaintances saw us a couple of times standing and hugging each other or holding hands in the street. Rumours started to spread. We realized that information about this would soon reach our parents, too. We decided to tell our families about it ourselves before someone else did."
They told their parents and, despite their young age, it was decided to "legalize" their relationship, that is, to have them engaged. The boy was soon drafted into the army.
"He is coming back from the army in the next few days. We are already preparing for the wedding. Certainly, I am happy. I am marrying someone I am in love with. But on the other hand, I think it is a bit too early for us to get married. In our society, if you are dating someone and other people find out about it, you need to legalize your relationship urgently. Otherwise, people will start saying things about you so bad that you will be unlikely to clear yourself."
Blackmail after sex
Nazaket says that the practice in which boys humiliate peer girls consenting to sex with them is quite widespread among people around her.
"They tell their friends and acquaintances horrible things about those girls."
Nazaket says that after having sex with their girlfriends, some boys make fun of them and blackmail them, even "offering" them to their friends.
"I myself heard a boy describing a girl he was dating as a loose girl and offering her to his friends," Nazaket says.
When something like that happens, a girl is not in a position to defend herself in any way – children do not talk to their parents about matters of this kind because they fear that their parents will get angry.
One of the cases of this kind that Nazaket mentioned happened in the country's Beylagan District in March 2017. A 16-year-old schoolgirl was gang-raped in her school. A classmate, who had explicit photos of the victim, made her have sex with other boys in return for promises that he would not circulate her photographs. The rape was filmed and circulated in social media. It can be heard in the video that the girl begs the boys to delete the clip. Meydan TV was the first to report on the case, citing the girl's family as the source. Again, not only the blackmailers who the girl's family said were 20 people, including minors, but also the victim who was criticized after this event was publicized.
A criminal case was launched under the article "sexual intercourse and other sexual actions with a person under 16". Two persons of legal age were arrested, but two of the girl's classmates were not arrested and rather placed under police surveillance. Psychologists and sociologists worked with the girl.
Ignorance is the root of the problem
Gender expert Nisa Hajiyeva talks about problems that the taboo on sexual relationships gives rise to in teenagers and young people's life:
"Teenagers do not know how their body works or how the body of people from the opposite sex works. They do not know what kinds of changes occur in their body during puberty and are too shy to talk about it. When children that grow up in a relatively conservative family suffer sexual violence and harassment, they do not even realize that it is harassment and violence."
Nisa Hajiyeva is convinced that the situation could be saved through the introduction of a dedicated course on sexual education in schools. Responsibility for Azerbaijani teenagers' catastrophic ignorance of these matters lies with educational institutions, the expert believes.
"Waiting for society to be prepared for this would take too long. So far, not even one study has shown that sexual education has a negative impact on children's behaviour or upbringing. Therefore, this kind of a course must definitely be added to the school curriculum," the gender expert says.
Switzerland is believed to be one of the most progressive countries in sexual education. Sexual education has been a compulsory discipline in Swiss schools since 1950.
In the Netherlands, children are told about human anatomy and sexual education in kindergartens. That country has the world's lowest teenager pregnancy rates.
The Azerbaijani Education Ministry together with the State Committee for Family, Women and Children has carried out a pilot project for children's sexual education in educational institutions since 2015. As part of that programme, teachers in Baku and Sumgayit are trained in the basics of teaching of topics related to reproductive health. Teachers that have already attended those training courses have held first lessons devoted to reproductive health in their schools. As part of the project, events are periodically held in schools. But the introduction of sexual education in schools is not on the agenda yet.
Nabil Seyidov, head of the Health Ministry's board's department for the organization of medical aid, said back in November 2018 that special training courses on reproductive health would play an important role toward a proper and healthy formation of kids' reproductive health.
The official promised that a course on "sexual education" would be taught in Azerbaijani schools starting from sixth grade.
"I do not know details of this pilot project but I have heard that gynaecologists and psychologists are involved in the preparation of the textbooks, that is, the matter is being looked into in a comprehensive manner," Nisa Hajiyeva said.
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