Population Matters

UNESCO’s Sex-ed Guidelines

September 10th, 2009

The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recently proposed “International Guidelines on Sexuality Education.” These guidelines provide educators with information on how to teach children about reproductive and sexual matters including HIV/AIDS transmission and unintended pregnancy.

The reason for these guidelines lies in the astonishing HIV/AIDS figures from UNAIDS and the WHO, which states that more than five million young people are living with HIV worldwide and 45 percent of all new infections occur among those aged 15 to 24 years old.  International Planned Parenthood Federation shows that 111 million new cases of curable sexually transmitted infections occur among young people aged 10 to 24 and 4.4 million girls aged 15 to 19 seek abortions, most of which are unsafe.

Predictably, the UNESCO guidelines have stirred a strong reaction from social conservatives, who argue that the guidelines are exposing kids to sex far too early, by drawing attention to masturbation and abortion.  But according to Time, masturbation is only mentioned 5 times in the 102 page document, “twice to explain to 5 to 8 year olds what the term means” noting that “it is not harmful, but should be done in private.”  The other three times it is mentioned is to 9 to 15 year olds explaining that “it does not cause physical or emotional harm and is often a person’s first experience of sexual pleasure.”  This is hardly teaching 5 year olds how to perform such a task.

UNESCO recommends that students are provided with sex education starting at five years old, with more detailed information as they get older.  Acording to UNESCO, sex education at an early age helps delay sexual activity and reduces the amount of sexual partners and unprotected sex.  The guidelines also provide a section entirely devoted to justifying why they have been written, drawing on information from 87 different studies from around the world reviewing curricula from 12 countries.

It is clear that UNESCO understands the importance of education.  With no AIDS vaccine, UNESCO recognizes that education is the only way to prevent the  spread of the deadly virus.  Fortunately, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has responded by reaffirming its support for comprehensive sexuality education. UNFPA’s Executive Director, Thoraya Ahmed Obaid spoke out this week, saying that, “We are mandated by the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) to provide support to governments to protect and promote the rights of adolescents to reproductive health education, information and care.”

Posted by: Emily Pontarelli, Program Associate

One Response to “UNESCO’s Sex-ed Guidelines”

  1. david burleson UNpoet@aol.com Says:

    thank u for this report on UNESCO and sex education… peace, david burleson, UNESCO adv to Unicef, retired…

    My Rosetta Stone for population education was published by UNESCO, in the International Bureau of Education series, EDUCATIONAL DOCUMENTATION AND INFORMATION, 48th Year, NO. 193, 4th Quarter 1974, with the title: Population education: problems and perspectives. The preface reads:

    1974 was World Population Year. The year saw the convening of a World Population Conference in Bucharest which brought together representatives from 137 countries to discuss the population situation and its variations in different parts of the world, and to draw up a World Population Plan of Action which would put population phenomena in perspective and recommend action which could be taken by governments and international agencies and organizations.

    One part of Unesco’s activity on the occasion of World Population Year was a global survey of population education programs and, in co-operation with the International Bureau of Education, the preparation of this annotated critical bibliography of school and out-of-school materials. The bibliography and narrative introduction to it are the work of Dr. Noel-David Burleson, an anthropologist who is an internationally known specialist in population education as well.

    The task of compiling the bibliography was not an easy one, in view of sometimes extremely divergent views of what constitute the most important elements of population education.

    These differences in conceptualization and perception which stem from different experiences in various parts of the world led Unesco to initiate in 1974 an International Study of the Conceptualization and Methodology of Population (ISCOMPE) to which this bibliography will lend support as an early major step towards collecting and analyzing data on a global scale. Leaving the author the responsibility for the content of the bibliography, the Secretariat avails itself of this opportunity to express appreciation for Dr. Burleson’s contribution and those of the hundreds of individuals and organizations who have given of their time and experience to make this publication possible.

    The first para of my preface reads: “There is nothing in the realm of population education about which I am more certain than that this essay and annotated bibliography are needed: yet it is very clear to me that both are inadequate in definitions, incomplete in coverage, and insufficient in detail. It has been a rewarding but taxing experience to be on the receiving end of population education materials from all the continents except Antarctic, from a large number of public and private international organizations, from foundations, from governments, from professional groups, and from universities, schools, and private individuals deeply concerned that the children and youth of today should have the opportunity to develop a keen understanding of the processes of population dynamics and the social and biological consequences thereof.”

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