Hanif Benjamin

Sex education is a topic that has drawn contrasting opinions from all quarters of society. Whenever the discussion to implement some form of it in the nation’s schools arises, the more conservative and religious segments of the country typically dismiss it. But experts who treat children who are victims of sex crimes believe it could play a critical role in protecting against these acts.

“It is time to move away from that. The world has moved away from that, why are we still wondering if it’s religiously okay? No. We need to move away from the stupidity,” former head of the Children’s Authority Hanif Benjamin said in an interview yesterday.

“The time has come for us to say ‘listen, we must arm our children.’ We must give them the information so that no one could hoodwink them.”

Apart from his work with the authority, Benjamin has spent several years doing social work throughout the region and in the United States. Since his return to T&T, he has been at the Centre for Human Development Ltd providing psychological and therapy services for traumatised children and adolescents.

Benjamin also believes that a proper, responsible and appropriate sex education programme for children could not only help to protect them against those seeking to endanger them but could also prevent them from becoming perpetrators themselves.

“Sexual deviant behaviour doesn’t start as an adult…you don’t wake up at age 25 and become a sexual deviant. You don’t wake up at 30 and become a sexual deviant,” he said.

“These things start when a person is a child and therefore if we are able to look at this from an early perspective, then we would be able to help people to manoeuvre what is going on, where are they, what is the situation and then provide the level of help that they need.”

Within recent days, over 12 cases of sexual abuse against children have been heard at the courts and in almost all of the instances, they were perpetrated by people the victims trusted. This is why Benjamin believes these perpetrators need to be studied so a profile can be built to help warn of potential risk.

“Unfortunately, we have not been able to describe in any specific sense what this person looks like. Therefore, I am saying a lot more research needs to go into perpetrators when they are caught and brought to justice,” he said.

A similar sentiment toward the necessity for sex education was shared by children rights activist Marcus Kissoon. While he also agreed that more studies need to be done on perpetrators, he said there was already enough evidence to act.

“We have to start putting things in place where children understand that these things exist, these situations exist, what does it mean to say no, what does it mean to tell somebody, and where are these somebodies to tell, who are these safe people,” he said.

In a response to questions from Guardian Media, Independent Senator and psychiatrist Dr Varma Deyalsingh called on the Minister of Education to implement an online sexual abuse component to their proposal.

The issue of sex education came up during the ministry’s online National Consultation on Education 2020 series. It is proposed to be a part of a broader Health and Family Life Education (HFLE) format.

However, the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha has already challenged any implementation of it within its schools.