Publication Date

“As the world is rapidly becoming more complex, with many children maturing earlier and being exposed to competing sources of information, the need for Comprehensive Sexuality Education and Information (CSE & I) has become urgent. There is a growing need to ensure that children are equipped with the necessary knowledge, skills and information regarding their sexuality in order for them to be in a better position to navigate the present and the future.”

This research on faith-based perspectives on Comprehensive Sexuality Education and Information (CSE & I) seeks to explore the role of African faith-leaders in providing CSE & I, specifically the extent of their current and potential involvement, and how their involvement can be enhanced. The study, which focused on East and Southern Africa, was commissioned by Save the Children International in partnership with International Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV and AIDS (INERELA+), an organisation that is devoted to empowering religious leaders living with or affected by HIV and AIDS to provide effective responses. The study forms part of the Pan-African Comprehensive Sexuality Education and Information (CSE & I) project being undertaken by INERELA+, together with Save the children, which involves the training religious leaders on CSE & I.

The study, which was carried out in May and June 2015, sought to:
a) Establish the views of theologians in various communities of faith on CSE & I
b) Establish the current trends in CSE & I within faith communities in the region
c) Undertake a comparative analysis of how different communities of faith are responding to CSE & I
d) Provide evidence of children’s access to CSE & I within religious settings
e) Provide recommendations on how religious leaders could enhance CSE & I to children within faith communities.

In order to address the objectives of the study, the research was designed to answer the following questions:
a) To what extent are religious leaders in particular countries aware of the situation of children in their countries?
b) What are the attitudes of religious leaders towards CSE & I?
c) What are religious leaders and institutions doing to address human sexuality in general and children’s sexuality in particular?
d) Are religious leaders aware of the children living with HIV and if so, how are they addressing their sexuality?
e) What are the strengths and weaknesses of religious leaders and institutions in addressing human sexuality in general and children’s sexuality in particular?
f) How have different faith communities responded to CSE & I?
g) To what extent have children accessed CSE & I in faith settings?

As explained in the report, objective c) and question f), as well as objective d) and question f), could not be met fully due factors explained in the report.

The following is a brief outline of some of the findings (based in part on the Executive Summary):

The findings showed that religious leaders are strategically placed to play a key role in ensuring that children receive CSE & I. The study established that faith communities have many positive characteristics that could be utilised to roll out CSE & I for children. While some have undertaken steps to ensure that children receive CSE & I within families and religious settings, much more remains to be accomplished. The study identified the following qualities which support why faith communities should promote CS & I to children:

  • A long history of engagement with issues of human sexuality
  • Ownership of health and education facilities
  • The trust that most religious leaders enjoy in communities
  • Existing structures
  • The potential to use the sacred texts creatively to support CSE & I

Study participants shared some of the prominent religious texts that address the theme of CSE & I. The study also observed that some religious leaders were using knowledge and skills from their INERELA+ training to reach out to children and youth. In addition, it noted that the religious leaders were willing to undergo further training to enhance their knowledge and skills of CSE & I in order to interact with children more effectively. In particular, they indicated the need for further training in relation to working with children living with HIV.

The study also analysed the opportunities and threats to religious leaders’ engagement with CSE & I. Opportunities include the fact that many religious leaders are yet to be trained, enthusiasm of religious leaders to learn, and presence of other players in the field. Threats include homosexuality legislation in many African countries, sensitivity of working with children which requires special knowledge and skills, and need for support and follow-up training.

Based on an analysis of the opportunities and threats, the study makes a number of recommendations. These include:

  • Scaling up training to empower more religious leaders
  • Furthering reflections on how to handle children’s sessions
  • Furthering engagement on the availability of condoms in faith settings
  • Working with women and younger religious leaders who have demonstrated higher levels of enthusiasm
  • Investing in champion to motivate other religious leaders to participate more effectively
  • Highlighting the issue of children living with HIV, as current awareness levels are low
  • Utilise the media effectively to ensure accurate and effective communication on sexuality to children
  • Collaborating with other organisations focusing on CSE & I
  • Investing in the interfaith approach to ensure that religious leaders from other communities of faith participate in CSE & 1 trainings
  • Considering hosting a founding conference on CSE & I with theological institutions so as to contribute towards the emergence of a theology of children’s sexuality in the context of CSE & I.

(Summary written by Soul Beat Africa.)