Unesco drawing up new draft after conservative groups find it too explicit for young kids
PARIS: The United Nations' educational body has been forced on to the defensive after proposed international sex education guidelines aimed at protecting young people from the human immuno- deficiency virus (HIV) were attacked by conservative groups.
The guidelines are scheduled to be released by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) in a new draft next week after the first draft was withdrawn.
The plan is to then distribute them to education ministries and school systems around the world to help guide teachers in what to tell young people about their bodies, sex, relationships and sexually transmitted diseases.
'In the absence of a vaccine for Aids, education is the only vaccine we have,' said Mr Mark Richmond, Unesco's global coordinator for HIV and the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (Aids), and the director of the division that coordinates educational priorities.
'Only 40 per cent of young people aged 15 to 24 have accurate knowledge' of how the disease is transmitted, he said, even though that age group 'accounts for 45 per cent of all new cases'.
But conservative critics say the programme would be too explicit for young children and promotes access to legal abortion as a right.
And the criticism has already led to the agency removing a June draft of the guidelines from its website, delayed the release of the final document, and caused one of the key participating and donor agencies to pull out of the project.
The UN Population Fund has also asked that its name be edited out of the published material, officials said.
A Population Fund official said on Tuesday that the fund wanted changes to the text, 'so it may better serve countries as guidelines for use in national educational systems'.
A team of Unesco experts has been working on the guidelines for two years, drawing on more than 80 studies of sex education, at a cost of about US$350,000 (S$506,000).
According to the International Planned Parenthood Federation, each year there are at least 111 million new cases of sexually transmitted diseases among people aged 10 to 24; 10 per cent of births are attributed to teenage mothers; and up to 4.4 million women aged 15 to 19 seek abortions.
But Unesco's June draft was attacked by conservative and religious groups, mainly in the United States, for recommending discussions of homosexuality, describing sexual abstinence as 'only one of a range of choices available to young people' to prevent disease and unwanted pregnancy, and suggesting a discussion of masturbation with children as young as five.
'If you ever have a situation where kids need to be taught earlier than their adolescence, this is not the way to do it,' said Mr Colin Mason of the Population Research Institute, an anti-abortion organisation based in Virginia in the US.
'It is very graphic and encourages practices like masturbation, which conservative Christians and others feel are wrong.'
He also said the diversity of views around the world on these issues renders any universal approach culturally insensitive.
A Unesco spokesman said: 'Unfortunately, the way the guidelines have been presented by certain media has provoked some fairly aggressive reactions.'
NEW YORK TIMES
[Josie and her Pussycats can set their sights on their next target: UNESCO!]