Drafts of the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) International Guidelines on Sexuality Education that will be launched formally in October are inciting controversy. UNESCO describes the guidelines (see PDF) as “an evidence-informed and rights-based framework to give children and young people access to the knowledge and skills they need in their personal, social and sexual lives.” The guidelines were developed using input from worldwide experts and research and aim to reduce the number of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, contracted by youth globally each year. Currently, there are 111 million new cases annually, according to the Telegraph UK.
Conservative groups, primarily in the United States, have criticized the proposed guidelines as promoting the idea that access to legal abortion is a right, positioning abstinence as “only one of a range of choices available to young people”, and encouraging discussion of homosexuality and masturbation, reported the New York Times. In response to the critics, the United Nations Population Fund has reportedly requested that their name be removed from all materials supporting the guidelines.
Sue Williams, chief of UNESCO’s Paris press relations department told Time, “we’re not surprised by this reaction, nor the places it’s coming from. In fact, our very goal with such recommendations is to initiate the kind of debate, reflection, and action that moves the topic forward. Our desire now, however, is that debate be both informed and balanced.”
Nanette Ecker, who co-authored the guidelines said, “Successful programs merge both evidence-informed approaches with rights-based, scientifically accurate and comprehensive approaches. The two approaches are not mutually exclusive. In a world with so many children and young people at risk of unintended pregnancy, sexual abuse and violence, HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), it would be an abuse if critical information about sexuality, relationships and sexual health wasn’t provided to young people.”