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Media Examine Debate Over UNESCO International Sex Education Guidelines

The New York Times examines how “[a] set of proposed international sex education guidelines aimed at reducing H.I.V. infections among young people” and unplanned pregnancies, based on “more than 80 studies of sex education,” has received some criticism. The release of the final guidelines, originally scheduled for next week by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), has been delayed. They would have been “distributed to education ministries, school systems and teachers around the world to help guide teachers in what to teach young people about their bodies, sex, relationships and sexually transmitted diseases,” the newspaper writes (Erlanger, 9/2).

“The goal is simple: with contraception often not an option in many parts of the world — and vaccines to prevent diseases like AIDS still unavailable — UNESCO hopes that teaching children more about the risks of sexual activity will help them steer clear of such perils,” TIME reports. “The organization believes this could be one way to scale back the 111 million new cases of sexually transmitted diseases reported among people aged 10 to 24 globally each year, and similarly reduce the 4.4 million abortions sought by women aged 15 to 19 annually” (Stirton, 9/3).

The New York Times writes, “[a] draft [of the guidelines] issued in June has been 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 5.” The groups have also expressed concerns over how the draft guidelines address condom use and abortion, and they maintain the guidelines “are too detailed and too uniform in their recommendations across different cultures, and they remove responsibility from parents.” According to the New York Times, UNESCO “says that it will present a new draft [next week], and that it hopes to produce the final guidelines by the end of the year” (9/2).

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