By Angelos Anastasiou
HIV infections mostly happen to young people, with two in three HIV-positive Cypriot residents being in the 20-39 age group when diagnosed, over half of people aged 15 to 29 don’t always use protection during sex, and almost four in five people who sought treatment for sexually-transmitted diseases are aged between 15 to 44, a study revealed to the House Health committee showed.
The study, titled “Analysis of current situation: Sexual and Reproductive Health and Teenagers’ Rights in Cyprus”, was conducted in the context of the “I’m Set” programme (Implementing Mandatory Sexuality Education for Teens), a bilateral collaboration between Cyprus and Norway.
According to the findings, 41 instances of HIV and 10 instances of AIDS were recorded in Cyprus in 2010. Over four in five of HIV-positive individuals were men, and in over half of total cases the virus was transmitted through sexual contact between men. Also, two out of three HIV-positive permanent residents of Cyprus had been between 20 and 39-years-old when diagnosed.
In terms of other sexually-transmitted diseases, 31 of 39 people sought treatment at public healthcare facilities for (STDs) in 2011 were aged between 15 and 44.
Incidents of sexual violence between 2010 and 2003 among children aged 12 to 18 were recorded at 10 per cent, while between domestic violence increased by 120 per cent between 2000 and 2011.
Bullying at primary schools was measured at 4.9 to 7.5 per cent of students, while 12.3 per cent of secondary-school students said they suffered bullying at school. In all, 34 per cent of students said they feel somewhat or completely unsafe at school.
Data published in 2012 indicated that one in four Cypriot girls of normal weight expressed a pathological desire to be thinner. A similar desire was expressed by 8.7 per cent of girls weighing less than normal.
According to the study’s authors, sexual education does not teach children how to have sex. In fact, studies show that children who receive adequate sexual education become sexually active later, have fewer sexual partners, and increased knowledge of contraception.
Two teenage students who are members of the group of teenagers consulting the Commissioner for the Protection of Children, Virina and Amalia, told deputies on the House Health committee that the goal of sexual education should be informing and sensitising children so that they can make informed and conscious decisions.
“A large part of the thoughts and ideas routinely troubling us children relate to issues of sexual education,” the girls said.
“And yet these issues are not in the core of the education system’s or the family’s attention.”
They argued that introducing sexual education will safeguard and promote children’s right to the protection of its physical and psychological health, while offering substantial tools in a child’s development and social coexistence.
“There are instances where children consciously avoid such discussions, or are embarrassed because of their inadequate education, and also cases where teachers avoid discussing such issues when asked, referring children to others or other sources,” they added.
“Due to a lack of education and information, the word ‘sex’ has acquired negative connotations, resulting in unnecessarily heightened parental concern and nervous and embarrassed reactions by teachers.”
According to Children’s Rights Commissioner Leda Koursoumba, sexual education is a legally prescribed children’s right. She argued that parents opposing its introduction in school think that not talking to children about these issues protects them, while talking to them will urge them to become sexually active earlier. She added that this theory is false, as studies have shown. She also called for comprehensive strategic planning by the education ministry on the sexual education of children.