A recent video of a couple of teenagers making out in a Sri Lankan public school went viral for all the wrong reasons. Not to confuse romance with sexual behaviour, but ‘making out’ is nothing new to Sri Lankan public mixed schools. The only novelty here is Facebook and Youtube. School romances are as old as Dhammi and Sugath of Golu Hadawatha or Kusum and Nimal of Gehenu Lamai.
“Sexual behaviour during adolescence is nothing new”, said Peradeniya University, Medical Faculty, Senior Lecturer and president of the College of Medical Administrators of Sri Lanka Dr. Neelamani Rajapaksa Hewageegana.
She pointed out that it’s an experimental age in which adolescents exhibit diverse behaviours induced by their environment.
“This age is like an inexperienced driver in a vehicle with a huge engine capacity using high octane fuel, with no brakes”, she said.
In fact according to her study titled ‘Sexual and Reproductive Knowledge, Attitudes and Behaviours in a school-going population of Sri Lankan adolescents’, 1.7 per cent of the 2020 pupils who took part in the study were sexually active (30 boys to five girls).
Age at first sexual experience ranged from 12 to 19 for the girls and from 10 to 17 years for boys. Forty per cent had initiated sexual relationships below the age of 16 years.
“Highest brain development is between age ten and 13, coupled with high hormonal activity,” explained Hewageegana. “Exposure to sexual material via technology is a given thing and this is why adolescents require guidance by a caring adult.”
She pointed out that during this age they watch and learn from adults and therefore adults should act as role models. She further explained that this is the age at which their talents can be honed. This would also divert their attention to something other than sexual behaviour.
“At this age neurons that are not used are pruned off and it’s a shame that during this age adolescents are stuck in a box sans mental stimuli,” said Hewageegana.
Dr. K Karunathilake of the Kelaniya University, Sociology Department said that sexual behaviour during adolescence is human nature. “Exposure to sexual material via internet has also added to the mix. Consequently a general change in behavioural patterns can be observed especially among schoolchildren,” said Dr. K Karunathilake.
He admitted that in parallel there is a lack of sex education among schoolchildren. “Our closed culture rarely permits open discussion of sex.”
In such a backdrop, Karunathilake points out that it is only natural for students to turn to the internet for sex information. “Even supporting services such as counselling conducted by authorities such as the Ministry of Women’s and Child Affairs are not accessible to children. Ideally counselling should be made available at school level for students,” said Karunathilake.
Karunathilake suggested that the authorities such as the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) and the Ministry of Health should make use of modern means of awareness creation. “Students already have access to the internet. Why wait till they access the wrong kind of information that would affect them adversely when authorities could use the same source of information to create awareness”, asked Karunathilake. “Schools could make use of educational videos for sex education.”
“The major problem is that the Sri Lankan social media users are not conversant with the complaining mechanism of Facebook,” says Chirantha Amerasinghe of the Foundation for Peoples’ Rights Protection.
Amerasinghe explained that defamatory material circulated via Facebook can be reported. But she said the process is tedious and the language barrier prevents people from reporting defamatory material.
“The material needs to be categorized under harassment or hate speech in the Facebook complaints form. Then it requires to be further clarified who the aggrieved party is, whether it’s an individual or otherwise.”
Amerasinghe pointed out that the Sri Lankan society is such that a couple kissing on the roadside will be subject to humiliation and harassment. “It’s the same people using Facebook. They will not think twice about defaming a child for the sake of a few likes for their Facebook page by uploading and sharing such videos.”
He said that censoring Facebook is impractical and instead users should exercise more restraint.
He contended that using Facebook requires being social media and tech savvy which demands a certain amount of intelligence. “People don’t exercise this intelligence and are irresponsible when posting on Facebook,” said Amerasinghe who noted that schoolchildren in the above mentioned video are now being harassed by the teachers.
Amerasinghe indicated that they would be taking up the matter with the authorities entrusted with child protection such as the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA).
National Child Protection Authority, Deputy Chairman Sajeeva Samaranayake said that parents are often reluctant to take legal action regarding defamatory videos fearing it would attract more publicity. He indicated that their mandate is ‘child protection against abuse, neglect and exploitation’ and this particular matter should ideally be handled by school authorities. “Such matters should be best handled personally and confidentially by parents and school authorities.”
Education Ministry, Media Coordinator, Kalpa Gayan concurred saying that it is a matter in the hands of teachers in charge of discipline, the principal and parents. “The Education Ministry cannot intervene until the complaint reaches them through the Provincial Education Director. “There is a hierarchy and the Ministry will take necessary action when we’re duly informed”, he said.
He admitted that awareness of the new media must be raised at school level. Gayan said that the Ministry is in the process of revising syllabi to incorporate sex education.
“It’s been reported that teachers are reluctant to teach this subjects due to cultural constraints,” said Gayan. “The ministry is in the process of streamlining teacher training.”