Review of Overcoming a Taboo: Normalizing Sexuality Education in Kazakhstan

Recent reports show the rates of child aban­don­ment as a con­se­quence of unwant­ed teenage preg­nan­cies are alarm­ing­ly high in Kaza­khstan. This prob­lem along with oth­er sex­u­al health prob­lems could be the result of a num­ber of fac­tors, includ­ing the lack of effec­tive sex­u­al­i­ty edu­ca­tion pro­grams in the school cur­ricu­lum that would shape young people’s sex­u­al behav­iour and atti­tudes towards sex­u­al­i­ty. The cur­rent review paper aims to analyse an arti­cle “Over­com­ing a Taboo: Nor­mal­iz­ing Sex­u­al­i­ty Edu­ca­tion in Kaza­khstan” pre­sent­ed as part of the Cen­tral Asia Pro­gram in Jan­u­ary 2018. 

The arti­cle is writ­ten in an acces­si­ble and com­pre­hen­sive lan­guage show­ing the author’s knowl­edge of sub­ject mat­ter, how­ev­er, there is no log­i­cal and coher­ent struc­ture through­out the arti­cle. The sec­tions such as the lit­er­a­ture review, method­ol­o­gy, aims, results, dis­cus­sions, con­clu­sions and rec­om­men­da­tions are not pre­sent­ed explic­it­ly and not shown in a chrono­log­i­cal order. Whilst the meth­ods and report­ed results are com­pre­hen­sive and clear­ly show­case the insuf­fi­cient sex­u­al­i­ty edu­ca­tion prob­lem fac­ing teenagers, there was no men­tion of the inter­views with the authors as anoth­er method used in the arti­cle, as well as the aims and lim­i­ta­tions of the research were not clear­ly stat­ed. The author com­pares Kaza­khstan with oth­er devel­op­ing coun­tries where the repro­duc­tive health sit­u­a­tion is no bet­ter with­out men­tion­ing in the Intro­duc­tion sec­tion why these par­tic­u­lar coun­tries were select­ed for com­par­i­son. This under­mines the val­ue of the study, there­fore, it would have been use­ful to select coun­tries with the bet­ter repro­duc­tive health sit­u­a­tion and draw on their experiences.

The entire arti­cle focus­es on the fac­tors explain­ing the acute sex­u­al health issues affect­ing young peo­ple. How­ev­er, there is a range of oth­er fac­tors that could result in the ear­ly sex­u­al activ­i­ty, such as the influ­ence of envi­ron­ment, peers, expo­sure to sex­u­al­ly explic­it mate­ri­als in the mass media, yet were not addressed by the author (Nikken & Graaf 2013). The arti­cle well-describes the appar­ent neglect of the issue by the pol­i­cy-mak­ers as a result of adopt­ing weak poli­cies or imple­ment­ing inef­fec­tive pro­grams. It high­lights the role of the local gov­ern­ment in increas­ing pub­lic aware­ness of the issue, through either pilot sex­u­al­i­ty projects, tar­get­ing pri­mar­i­ly women, or lec­tures, and poor results that it deliv­ered. The arti­cle iden­ti­fies the under­ly­ing caus­es for these fail­ures as stereo­types, stig­ma or shame attached to an ear­li­er sex­u­al activ­i­ty. Such stig­ma pre­vents par­ents from open­ly talk­ing about sex­u­al­i­ty with their chil­dren and makes the pol­i­cy-mak­ers move away from an issue. 

Chil­dren in tra­di­tion­al cos­tume at the inte­ri­or court­yard of the Ulugh Beg Madrasa. — by Dan Lund­berg from flickr

The author sug­gests the sex­u­al­i­ty edu­ca­tion as an alter­na­tive that is yet to be put to prac­tice, and iden­ti­fies the lack of infor­ma­tion about sex­u­al health in Kaza­kh lan­guage for the res­i­dents of cer­tain regions as well as low-qual­i­ty or inac­ces­si­ble sex­u­al health ser­vices and cen­tres as oth­er con­tribut­ing fac­tors influ­enc­ing the sex­u­al well-being and health of teenagers. Inter­view answers of var­i­ous spe­cial­ists and sur­vey find­ings have been pro­vid­ed to sup­port this infor­ma­tion as well as the argu­ments made through­out the arti­cle. The author also sug­gest­ed that a range of pol­i­cy changes such as abor­tion legal­iza­tion for 16-year-olds, pub­lic aware­ness cam­paigns, increas­ing the qual­i­ty of sex­u­al health ser­vices, mak­ing birth con­trol means more acces­si­ble, etc. would reduce the prob­lem. How­ev­er, this set of mea­sures in itself would not solve the prob­lem com­plete­ly, for exam­ple, legal­i­sa­tion of teen abor­tions is like­ly to have seri­ous health con­se­quences, such as mor­bid­i­ty and mor­tal­i­ty (Gerdts et al. 2016). 

There­fore, solu­tions should be prop­er­ly devel­oped with all the root caus­es of the prob­lem in mind. As a way for­ward, sex­u­al­i­ty edu­ca­tion should not be per­ceived as some­thing that encour­ages ear­ly sex­u­al rela­tion­ships, it should rather be regard­ed as a tool to increase the public’s knowl­edge of sex­u­al health (Wight 2005). Inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty, pol­i­cy-mak­ers and pub­lic should also unite in their efforts to elim­i­nate stig­ma and stereo­types by rais­ing pub­lic aware­ness and shap­ing pub­lic opin­ion of an issue as well as draw the atten­tion of pol­i­cy-mak­ers most resis­tant to chang­ing the poli­cies, ensure parental involve­ment in order  to change the ways the par­ents raise their chil­dren through var­i­ous infor­ma­tion sources and media plat­forms. The more the par­ents are open to talk with their chil­dren about the sex­u­al­i­ty and asso­ci­at­ed issues, the less like­ly are chil­dren to choose the wrong path or encounter its harm­ful con­se­quences (Krebbekx 2018).


Gerdts, C., Dobkin, L., Fos­ter, D. G., & Schwarz, E. B. (2016). Side effects, phys­i­cal health con­se­quences, and mor­tal­i­ty asso­ci­at­ed with abor­tion and birth after an unwant­ed preg­nan­cy. Wom­en’s Health Issues26(1), 55–59.

Krebbekx, W. (2018). What else can sex­u­al­i­ty edu­ca­tion do? Log­ics and effects in class­room prac­tices. Sex­u­al­i­ties, 1363460718779967.

Nikken, P., & de Graaf, H. (2013). Rec­i­p­ro­cal rela­tion­ships between friends’ and parental medi­a­tion of ado­les­cents’ media use and their sex­u­al atti­tudes and behav­ior. Jour­nal of youth and ado­les­cence42(11), 1696–1707.

Wight, D. (2005). Sex Edu­ca­tion: The Way Ahead. Avail­able at: Accessed: 15 Feb­ru­ary 2019.