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Sex education gains steam in south China primary schools

A teacher conducts a lecture on sex education to an all-girl class at the Zhangyi Middle School in the Ningxia Hui autonomous region. (ZHAI ANRU / FOR CHINA DAILY)

HAIKOU – Li Li (pseudonym) has been distressed recently because she is often the butt of jokes of the boys in her class due to her puberty-related bodily changes.

Facing their ridicule, the 11-year-old girl rushes away from her classmates after school in search of solitude. "I feel like I have done something wrong, and it makes me feel embarrassed," Li said.

Discussions around sex are still considered taboo by many in China, where feudal values have shaped attitudes for thousands of years. Chinese parents are sometimes embarrassed to educate their children about sexuality, which leaves many children vulnerable to sexual abuse

Discussions around sex are still considered taboo by many in China, where feudal values have shaped attitudes for thousands of years. Chinese parents are sometimes embarrassed to educate their children about sexuality, which leaves many children vulnerable to sexual abuse.

To improve sex education among young people, a school in south China's Hainan province is promoting a unique awareness program, with teachers imparting knowledge about the private parts of the human body.

The mental health teaching team of Haikou Binhai No. 9 Primary School, located in the provincial capital Haikou, has designed a series of lessons on sex education.

Liu Baojian, a mental health instructor at the school, is in charge of educating children about basic bodily knowledge. Liu's class is titled "I am responsible for my own body."

The class uses interesting activities to foster a better understanding among the students of their bodies.

The teacher uses "traffic lights" to help children understand and define the boundaries of physical contact with others. For example, body parts off limits are deemed "dangerous zones" and marked in red. Students make "body traffic lights" by themselves, Liu said.

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Liu Baojian, a mental health instructor of Haikou Binhai No. 9 Primary School, uses "traffic lights" to help children understand and define the boundaries of physical contact with others. For example, body parts off limits are deemed "dangerous zones" and marked in red. Students make "body traffic lights" by themselves, said Liu

Lin Chi, an expert in psychology, deems it a highly useful class. By creating their own 'traffic lights,' children understand their bodies better and exercise "self-sovereignty" over their own bodies, Lin said.

The earlier children receive sex education, the better it is for their physical and mental health, said Li Huijun, a mental health professional in Hainan.

"For many children, their biggest confusion often arises with the development of their bodies during puberty," Li said.

Sex education concerns childrens' physical and mental health, including the development of personality and self-identity, and is thus the most basic and necessary part of life education, Li added.

Wu Shaolan, vice-president of the primary school, is behind this important initiative.

After years of teaching, Wu found that children are often intrigued and perplexed about sex. For instance, some children may be subjected to sexual harassment but are unsure what to do.

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Students attend class at Beijing National Day School – Longyue in Haidian district of Beijing, capital of China, May 11, 2020. (PHOTO / XINHUA)

"Developing a systematic curriculum suitable for students was our initial goal," Wu said.

The program has been chosen as a key education project in Hainan and is being actively promoted, with authorities currently piloting it in more than 20 schools in the province.

Sex education concerns childrens' physical and mental health, including the development of personality and self-identity, and is thus the most basic and necessary part of life education, said Li Huijun, a mental health professional in Hainan province

Teachers and parents in rural areas often lack awareness of sex education, said Zeng Lingrong, headmaster of a rural school in the province's Chengmai County.

It's quite beneficial for students to imbibe awareness through these courses, which can help strengthen their self-protection against sexual abuse, added Zeng, whose school is also piloting the course.

He Ming, mother of a 9-year-old girl, said that while sex education was unthinkable in her parents' generation, it is crucial in reality. "Girls are often mocked by boys, inducing a feeling of distress, but they do not have to be ashamed of menstruation or breast growth," she added.

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"I think it is necessary to start sex education in primary schools. It can help children realize that puberty is normal and that they are simply growing up," He said.