By Christopher Neefus
(CNSNews.com) – A June report from the United Nations Economic, Social and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) suggests children of all countries and cultures are entitled to sexual and reproductive education beginning at age five.
The report, called International Guidelines on Sexual Education, was released in June in conjunction with the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), an organization which works for universal access to “reproductive health care.”
In its rationale for creating the guidelines, the UNESCO report said it is “essential to recognize the need and entitlement of all young people to sexuality education.” An appendix backed that claim by pointing to a 2008 report from the International Planned Parenthood Federation that argued governments “are obligated to guarantee sexual rights,” and that “sexuality education is an integral component to human rights.”
The guidelines are designed, according to the report, to be “age-appropriate” and break down the suggested curriculum into four age groups: 5- to 8-year-olds, 9- to 12-year-olds, 12- to 15-year-olds and 15- to 18-year-olds.
For those aged 5 to 8, some key concepts to be discussed are:
-- “Touching and rubbing one’s genitals is called masturbation” and that “girls and boys have private body parts that can feel pleasurable when touched by oneself.”
-- That “people receive messages about sex, gender, and sexuality from their cultures and religions.”
-- That “all people regardless of their health status, religion, origin, race or sexual status can raise a child and give it the love it deserves.”
-- “Gender inequality,” “examples of gender stereotypes,” and “gender-based violence.”
-- Description of fertilization, conception, pregnancy, and delivery.
For those aged 9 to 12, key concepts include:
-- “specific steps involved in obtaining and using condoms and contraception, including emergency contraception” and the “signs and symptoms of pregnancy.”
-- That “legal abortion performed under sterile conditions by medically trained personnel is safe.”
-- Discussing the ideas of “homophobia, transphobia and abuse of power.”
-- Discussing that “every person has the right to decide whether to become a parent, including disable people and people living with HIV” as well as “ART (anti-retroviral therapy) and side-effects on puberty.”
-- That “both men and women can give and receive sexual pleasure” and the “definition and function of orgasm.”
-- Discussing “examples of harmful traditional practices,” listed examples of which include female genital cutting, honour killings, bride killings, and polygamy.”
For those aged 12 to 15, the report recommends discussing “access to safe abortion and post-abortion care” and the “use and misuse of emergency contraception.”
UNESCO also suggests those as young as 12 should be told, “the size and shape of the penis, vulva or breasts vary and do not affect reproduction or the ability to be a good sexual partner.”
By age 15, adolescents should be exposed “advocacy to promote the right to and access to safe abortion,” according to the guidelines.
SIECUS and Sex Ed
The authors of the report consulted the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) in building their curriculum framework. One of the two authors, Nanette Ecker, is a former SIECUS employee.
Like the UNFPA, SIECUS advocates for ensuring that “every person has the right and access to sexual and reproductive health, so that humanity and the natural environment can exist in balance and fewer people live in poverty,” according to the organization Web site. Their stated concern is the “depletion of natural resources” – which is reduced through access to abortions.
The founding director of the organization, Mary S. Calderone, was a director of Planned Parenthood. SIECUS currently belongs to the National Coalition to Support Sexuality Education, alongside groups like NARAL -- The National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, The Human Rights Campaign, and the National Council of La Raza.
In its justification for the new U.N. guidelines, the report says that programs supporting traditional values on marriage and sex are faulty.
“Abstinence is only one of a range of choices available to young people,” the authors wrote, describing abstinence-only programs as “fear-based” and “designed to control young people’s sexual behavior by instilling fear, shame, and guilt.”
SIECUS drew fire in the 1990s for its own set of guidelines, which said: “Two people who cohabit can have the same commitment as responsibility toward one another as married people.”
The Population Research Institute, a nonprofit research group aiming to dispel “the myth of overpopulation,” has taken issue with the U.N. report and its “guidelines.”
“We are definitely appalled, but not surprised,” said Colin Mason, PRI director for media.
Mason called UNFPA, UNESCO’s partner in releasing the guidelines, “one of the original population-control groups, so most of the things they do stem from that lens.”
Mason also said he did not believe it was justifiable to entitle children to sex education starting from a young age and labeling abortion as a human “right.”
Mark Richmond, director of the UNESCO Division for Coordination of Priorities in Education, defended the program in a written statement to CNSNews.com from the agency offices in Geneva, Switzerland.
“Neither UNESCO nor the International Guidelines is making a case about sexual activity being a right,” he said. “Instead, the International Guidelines are focused on the importance of children and young people acquiring -- through age-appropriate education programmes -- knowledge and information that will enable them to better understand themselves and others so that their conduct is not based on ignorance, factual error or misunderstanding.”
Asked whether UNESCO has a bias against traditional marriage and sexual values, Richmond pointed to the caveat on page 60 of the report: “It should be noted that abstinence is often taught as one option for safer sex as part of a comprehensive sexuality education programmes.”
Richmond admitted, however, that the proposed sex-ed curriculum should be available even to very young children, however.
“(T)he International Guidelines support the view that sexuality education should be a provided to children and young people who have both a need for and an entitlement to knowledge and information,” he wrote.
“Furthermore, sexuality education should be comprehensive and be offered within the formal school curriculum.”
Addressing one specific example of sexuality being taught to the very young, Richmond defended UNESCO’s recommendation of discussing masturbation with children beginning at age 5.
“It takes, as a starting point, that this is a time when children are known to be curious about their bodies, it explains what masturbation is, that not all people do it and that it should be done in private,” he wrote.
“The topic is addressed again in the next age range (9-12). This is intended to ensure that children develop a more complex understanding of sexual behaviour as they progress through each stage in the transition to adulthood.”
UNESCO has 193 member nations around the world, including the United States.