MINISTER of Sport and Youth Affairs Shamfa Cudjoe says there is a need for sexual education in schools and at a younger age.
"There is a persistent myth that sexual-health education promotes early and irresponsible sexual activity among young people, and that has become a part of our culture. I think that must be condemned. And church people and Bible-thumpers and religious leaders – they don't want to have the conversation at all."
She said it must be dealt with in a comprehensive way. Cudjoe said interacting with youths shows there was need a sexual education in schools or churches and "everywhere you find young people.
"And that needs to happen at a younger age. From the time you talk with children in fourth form, in fifth form, it is already too late. A whole lot of action already happened. And you are just way too late."
She was speaking yesterday at the launch of Partnerships for Youth Alive and Well at the US Embassy, Sweet Briar Road, Port of Spain. The programme, a collaboration between the Medical Research Foundation, the embassy and other agencies, is meant to provide support and focused services for youths living with HIV/AIDS.
She said while young people hear about AIDS, condoms and safer sex very often, there was still a lot of confusion and misinformation which further compounds their vulnerability. She added that listening to young people, some are opting for anal sex to avoid getting pregnant, and some believe oral sex is not sex and that HIV only affects homosexuals.
"As advanced and as forward-thinking as we believe we are as a people, we must admit that talking about sex and sexuality and also STIs has been and still is difficult in our society."
She said these subjects are often treated with suspicion and mistrust by parents, teachers, administrators, religious leaders and even policy-makers.
"Some still believe that talking about sex means encouraging young people to be wild and reckless and just be out there having sex with any and everybody."
She said the programme was most timely and relevant, with the annual celebration of World AIDS Day on December 1. She added she was heartened there would be a more pointed approach and a youth focus. A lot of attention has been spent on prevention but not as much on the welfare of those already affected, she said.
She also called for social workers and health care professionals to be educated on the importance of confidentiality, otherwise the efforts of the programme will "redound to nothing."