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