Condom Advertising: Why Is Your Bias Selective, Minister?

Dear Minister Smriti Iraniji,

I just read the announcement by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry of India that condom advertisements cannot be aired between 6 AM and 10 PM on television. The directive issued by your department cites rule 7 (7) of the cable television rules that prohibits advertisements influencing children in any undignified or indecent manner. It also cites rule 7 (8), which speaks about prohibiting offensive and indecent themes and treatments.

I have a few questions to ask you, madame minister.

How Are We Protecting Children By Preventing Condom Advertisements?

Let’s speak about influencing young impressionable minds, first. Technically, all persons below the age of 18 are children. I am sure, Minister, since you are so well informed and a mother yourself, you would be aware that sexual interest sets in at a very young age, in today’s times.

According to a survey by MediAngels in 2015, the average age for sexual activity is 13.72 years for boys and 14.09 years for girls. Don’t you think, Minister, that it is important that they know about condom usage at that age? How long will we continue to police our children, and deny them basic education to keep themselves healthy and free from teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases?

Don’t we owe this education to our children in a world where information is available at the click of a mouse and on our mobile screens. Condom advertisements, or advertisements about any product that a child doesn’t understand, in my honest opinion, are a trigger for questions, that they could ask a trusted adult.

I opine that we should rather be encouraging a free flow of thoughts and conversations about sex and safe sex practices. I feel that girls and boys should be explained about periods, sanitary pads and condoms the moment they hit puberty. It doesn’t mean that they would need to think of a moment where they could use them. However, we need to be pragmatic in understanding that sex is not a forbidden fruit – whether we like it or not, approve it or not, it is available for exploration the moment our hormones start jumping in excitement. The best thing we can do for children at that age, is empower them with knowledge. Isn’t it?

 How Do We Prevent Teenage Pregnancy?

In this scientific study published in the Indian Journal of Pediatrics, it was found that there is high prevalence of diseases in females undergoing teenage pregnancy. This United Nations Population Fund study, also notes that there are 62 pregnant teens out of every 1000 women. Here, when we are tackling with such statistics, how do we feel it is right to restrict the right to information to children who may end up getting pregnant or impregnating, by accident.

What About Sexually Transmitted Diseases?

Condoms help to prevent sexually transmitted diseases. I’m sure that you are aware that India is the 3rd nation in the world for the highest number of HIV cases. And it is not just HIV, it is HPV, hepatitis, syphillis, gonorrhoea that could all be reduced by safer sex practices. Yes, older children need to know about sex, sexuality and STDs so that they can protect themselves.

If Sexualised Ads Are A Problem Why Is There A Selective Bias Against Condoms?

Madame Minister, have you seen the Aam Sutra advertisement, where Katrina Kaif plays with a mango and speaks in a sexy tone? Never before, has a fruit besides apple from the era of Adam and Eve, has been so sexualised. Everything from cars to perfumes to beauty soaps, to even hair oils have been sexualised.

Why Don’t We Regulate Serials That Are Regressive And Unscientific?

Speaking about influencing young impressionable minds, how is it good to grow up thinking that you can fight with your mother in law over a spoon? Or be told that, you cannot go to work – if the husband doesn’t like laddos made by her, she cannot go to work in Sasural Simar Ka. While it sounds funny, it is an insult to our collective intelligence as a nation. A recent serial called “Shakti” completely misrepresents transpeople, they make no attempt to understand the lives of transgenders who are people whose gender is not the same as popularly dictated by their sex.

Why Do We Not Take Measures To Desexualise Content Instead?

For the sake of argument – why can’t the directive be to have condom advertisements that speak about safety from diseases and pregnancy, rather than pleasure from 10 AM to 6 PM. Also, how is it saving children from viewing this content, when children usually reach home around 4-5 PM from school.

Ministerji, your dream of a free liberal India with ignited and open minds is a dream we share.I wish to, however, add that your measure of wiping out condom ads from our television sets for eight hours of the day, is not a step in that direction. We are in an age when we need to educate children about sex and sexuality in our schools, by imparting age-appropriate education, as they grow up. The truth cannot be hidden from them.

Roti, Kapda, Makaan and Condom should be the agenda of every government, of every nation that claims to be open minded, pluralistic and respectful of science and ground realities of our times. A better stance would have been to have condom ads that focus on protection and not pleasure.

I hope you read this and I hope you understand.

Thank you,
Harish Iyer

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