The Catholic Church in Kerala, which years ago made it mandatory for would-be brides and bridegrooms to attend pre-marital counselling and sex education classes, has gone a step further by introducing sex education into the catechism (religious teaching) curriculum.

The Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese of the Syro-Malabar Church launched ‘Enlight,’ the sex education initiative for eighth-grade catechism students within the archdiocese, a few months ago on an experimental basis. “The response from the children, their parents and the teachers has been so overwhelming that we have decided to make it a part of the curriculum,” Fr. Jimmy Poochakkatt, director of the Department of Catechism and Moral Education of the archdiocese, told The Hindu.

Catholic children in Kerala, from age 5, take religious lessons every Sunday after church, for 10 years. This catechism lessons are often called ‘Sunday school.’

“We plan to cover all the one lakh students—this will mean covering around 10,000 each year,” Fr. Poochakkat said. So far, more than 8,000 children have attended the ‘Enlight’ sessions held at a dozen places across the archdiocese.

The day-long sessions, handled by psychologists and counsellors using audio-visual aids, introduce children to the Christian concept of sexuality and human body; scientific analysis of the functioning of sexual organs; puberty; biological changes in the body of a teenager; and, man-woman sexual attraction.

And there is a specific segment that deals with social networking traps and mobile phone abuse.

Sexuality, a divine gift

“The Church believes that sexuality is a divine gift,” Fr. Poochakkatt noted. “At a time when child sex abuse is widespread and the abuse of social networking and mobile phone is rampant, our teenagers should have a clear sense of the sexual traps they face in everyday life,” Fr. Poochakkatt said.

In his view, a major cause for the rise in incidents of sex abuse and sexual violence in the country is the ignorance of sexuality. “Both the offenders and the victims lack knowledge of their own bodies and their sexualities,” he said. “We tell students attending ‘Enlight’ sessions: ‘sexuality is a divine gift, don’t misuse it.’”

‘Enlight’ lays stress on checking the abuse of social networking and the evil of teenage sex chatting, by exposing the risks. A video clip showing a teenage girl and her brother making sex chats from their respective rooms in the same house without knowing each other exposes the dangers of chats between anonymous persons. Another clip shows how ‘missed calls’ land a teenage girl in trouble.

“Sexuality is a taboo topic in our society and hence there is no healthy discussion about it,” Fr. Poochakkatt says. “Even husbands and wives do not discuss their sexualities.” As a result, there were a lot of myths and misconceptions about the ‘divine gift.’

Interestingly, the Catholic Church in Kerala, which held highly conservative and archaic views on sex, was loathe to introduction of sex education even in colleges in the past.

But, realising that lack of sexual knowledge wrecked countless number of families, the church introduced premarital counselling in the 1990s which proved very useful to young couples. Now, attending premarital counselling and sex education course is now mandatory for a church wedding. Many community and caste organisations, such as SNDP, these days hold regular premarital counselling classes for their young.

Fr. Poochakkatt said that the Kerala society had, by and large, recognised the importance of sex education.

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