Students in Bangladesh are not properly taught about sexual and reproductive health as the country's education system fails to provide reliable information on this topic. The issue is also very sensitive in Bangladeshi culture and most people still consider discussing it openly as embarrassing, said speakers at a webinar on Wednesday.
They said the rate of child marriage in the country is not declining due to a lack of knowledge about sexual and reproductive health which is also behind the rise in maternal and infant mortality rates.
The Department of Population Sciences of Dhaka University conducted the webinar titled "Let's Talk About Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights" in collaboration with the SNV Netherlands Development Organization.
The Business standard was the media partner of the event.
Mohammad Bellal Hossain, professor Population Sciences at Dhaka University, said, "The education system in Bangladesh still lacks reliable information about sexual health. Moreover, the subject is still not taught in detail at the high school level. Students are told to read on this topic at home. As a result, the students remain unaware about the importance of this subject.
"When students ask family members about the topic, they feel embarrassed and generally do not respond. After that students try to find out the information on various websites and from friends. They often get wrong information in this process."
Bellal Hossain said according to Unicef, the rate of child marriage in Bangladesh is 59%. Only two countries in Africa have more child marriages than Bangladesh – Niger (76%), and Chad Republic (67%).
Mentioning the negative effects of child marriage, Prof Bella said, "Early marriage stops girls from getting an education. Mothers who give birth at a young age suffer from malnutrition due to a lack of a good idea about sexual and reproductive health. Their children also suffer from malnutrition. These hinder the economic progress of the country as a whole."
He said, "Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has said that child marriage will be stopped completely by 2041. To do this, we need to tell everyone about the evils of child marriage. We need to create social awareness."
Dr Nazneen Akhter, assistant professor (Adjunct), Department of Public Health, North South University, said, "When circumcision of boys is done, it becomes a festival for the family. But when girls have their first period, they tend to hide it. It is considered a shame. We need to get rid of prejudices about periods. At home, parents should talk openly about physiological processes like periods."
According to the National Hygiene Survey 2014, 86% of women in Bangladesh still use old clothes or rags during menstruation.
Dr Nazneen Akhter said, "Using unhealthy clothes during menstruation causes physical problems including infections. Sanitary napkins or pads have to be produced in a joint venture between the government and non-government organisations to make them available. To buy a pad at a lower price, it has to be tax-free."
Dr Abu Jamil Faisal, a public health expert and advisor to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, spoke on men's sexual and reproductive health issues and reproductive rights.
"We need to understand that both boys and girls need to know about sexual and reproductive health. We understand sexual and reproductive health to mean only the health of girls. Because girls become pregnant, their physical changes are seen," he said.
He added, "Many people do not know how to use condoms properly. Many even do not use condoms. Most men give women the main responsibility for using birth control methods."
More than 100 students from the University of Dhaka and Bangladesh University of Professionals participated in the webinar.