In Cayman’s social media groups, fear, anger and confusion have driven increasingly hostile discussions about gender and sexuality in recent weeks.
With the newly enacted Civil Partnership Bill – passed by assent of Governor Martyn Roper – as the backdrop, debate has spiralled beyond same-sex partnerships and, at times, veered into the realm of misinformation.
The islands’ sex-education curriculum has become one source of speculation and rumour, in part due to a widely shared and commented-on video from an anti-LGBTQIA+ group posted to Facebook.
Rather than repeating the video’s unfounded and false claims, we’ll tell you what we do know about sex education in the Cayman Islands.
How much control do parents and students have in consenting to sex-ed classes?
Sex education is voluntary in Cayman, as it is in the United Kingdom. The Cayman Islands Ministry of Education’s most recent policy on the topic, released in 2013, states, “Parents have the right to withdraw their children from all or part of any sex education provided, but not from teaching the biological aspects of human growth and reproduction necessary under national curriculum for science.”
A similar policy remains in place in the UK. Parents should note that, regardless, the Cayman Islands curriculum remains independent of the UK curriculum.
Christine Rowlands, head of the Governor’s Office in Cayman, said it’s up to the Ministry of Education to decide Cayman’s curriculum and she is unaware of any ministry plans.
It is compulsory for UK secondary schools to offer sex education classes, but Rowlands pointed out that parents hold the right to withdraw their children, up to the age of 16, from such lessons.
“There is no compulsory sex education for primary pupils [in the UK] and parents can ask for their children to be excluded until just before they turn 16 when it becomes the child’s choice,” Rowlands wrote in an email to the Cayman Compass.
UK Department of Education guidelines, last updated in July, confirm Rowlands’ statement.
“Parents have the right to request that their child be withdrawn from some or all of sex education delivered as part of statutory RSE [Relationships and Sex Education],” the UK guidelines read.
Review the UK Department of Education’s relationships and sex-education guidance at https://bit.ly/3hYl85N.
What is Cayman’s sex-ed curriculum?
A three-page document from 2013 provides Cayman’s most recent policy guidance on sex education and is the only document regarding sex education posted to the Ministry of Education’s online list of ‘Approved Education Policies’. The Ministry of Education did not provide further information about the curriculum by press time.
Much of the ‘Sex and Relationship Education’ policy document is aspirational and outlines the intent to develop and implement such a curriculum. The document sets out responsibilities to be fulfilled by the ministry, the Education Standards and Assessment Unit, the Department of Education Services and school leaders. It is not clear if these responsibilities were fulfilled. The policy was scheduled for review in 2016, and the Ministry of Education did not confirm if this review occurred.
The document establishes that sex education is not part of the primary-school curriculum. Year 6 students are to learn about physical and emotional changes during puberty. Primary students should also learn about “appropriate relationships and contact, and about keeping safe as part of the Personal, Social and Moral learning curriculum”.
In government secondary schools, the policy states students should learn about sex and relationships, including education about HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, human growth and reproduction.
“All government secondary schools must have a written statement of whatever policy they adopt on sex education and make it available free to parents. The statement must be drawn up in consultation with the Department of Education Services,” the policy states.
“The principal must ensure that any sex education is provided in a way that encourages students to consider morals and the value of family life. Schools must inform parents prior to scheduled programmes of sex and relationship education.”
Previously, the Department of Education Services has explained that sex education is part of the life skills curriculum, which includes health and drug use.
In 2013, students petitioned for a more comprehensive curriculum. At the time, a department spokeswoman said officials would consult with the Cayman Islands Red Cross and Department of Counselling Services to review the policy, in response to student interest in the subject.
The Red Cross also supports local sex education. The non-profit offers ‘Darkness to Light’ training to prevent child sexual abuse, as well as classes on gender and sexuality. The Red Cross did not respond by press time to discuss its education programmes but is expected to meet with the Compass soon.
Review the ‘Sex and Relationship Education’ Policy at https://bit.ly/3iZhzO4.
Should young people learn about sex and sexual health at all?
Regardless of whether Cayman Islands’ adolescents are learning about sex, many of them are having sex.
A 2013 study ‘Adolescent Health and Sexuality’, supported by the Pan American Health Organization, polled 955 Cayman Islands youth ages 15-19.
Of those surveyed, nearly 40% had already had sex and around a quarter had had sex before the age of 15. The median age for first-time sexual intercourse in the survey group was 14.
Almost one in 10 females and more than one in five males responded that they had sex for the first time before the age of 12.
The legal age of consent in the Cayman Islands is 16.
Around half of the teens surveyed indicated they had not used a condom when they first had sex. About one in eight of sexually active respondents answered that they have been pregnant or gotten someone else pregnant.
Of females who had ever had sex, 7.7% said they had an abortion.
Only a quarter of the teens were able to both correctly identify ways to prevent sexual transmission of HIV and reject major misconceptions about HIV transmission.
Many survey participants had also been subject to sexual abuse. About one in 10 responded that they had been sexually abused by a member of their family or another person. Almost one in five, 18.6%, of female respondents answered they had been sexually abused.
Among respondents who had had sex, 4.9% stated that the first time they had sex, they were raped (forced or threatened into sex). A further 8.1% said that they were “sort of” forced or threatened.
Review the study ‘Adolescent Health and Sexuality’ at https://bit.ly/3ctsFYY.
What about workshops being offered by groups like Colours Cayman?
Colours Cayman hosts periodic ‘Colour Me Loved’ workshops for youth above age 13, as well as teachers, parents and guardians, to promote education on gender identity, sexual orientation and mental health.
These workshops are entirely voluntary and are not part of the school curriculum.
“We advocate for LGBTQIA+ rights as human rights and promote the inclusion and equality of LGBTQIA+ people in the Cayman Islands,” Colours said in a recent statement. “We further our mission in many ways, including hosting educational workshops – as we have for years now – that are designed to educate our youth, teachers, parents and guardians on the sensitive subjects of gender identity, sexual orientation and mental health.”
Colours continued, “We remain vigilant in our efforts to inform, protect and support our youth and have taken considerable measures to ensure that our members and associates are knowledgeable, sensitive and well trained in these areas.”
What are some resources parents can consult to guide conversations about development and sexual health?
Online resources are abundant for parents who would like to guide their children through age-appropriate conversations about development and sexuality.
Dr. Catherine Day, a consultant clinical psychologist with Aspire, recommended a ‘traffic light’ guide sheet, downloadable from www.caymancompass.com, that was developed by the UK’s Brook organisation to identify appropriate and inappropriate behaviours by age.
The tool can help parents and teachers monitor problematic or unhealthy behaviours.
For ages 0-5, for example, safe, ‘green behaviours’ include curiosity about body parts and how they function, and differences between boys and girls. Problematic, ‘red behaviours’ that merit intervention include simulating sexual activity in play or forcing sexual play on other children.
In addition to Brook, Dr. Erica Lam, also a consultant clinical psychologist with Aspire, recommended the Family Planning Association (www.fpa.org.uk/) for factsheets and books tailored for different age groups.
She also outlined a number of resources to help young people navigate online information and avoid exploitation. She pointed to Thinkuknow by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, NetsmartzKids, Cyberbullying Digizen, and That’s Not Cool for age-adapted resources for children and guardians.
Additional resources recommended by Dr. Catherine Day: