Reducing HIV infection in young people and improving their sexual and reproductive health require effective education programmes. However, such programmes are still not available in many parts of the world. UNESCO and its partners have now developed new guidelines to address this problem.
The “International Guidelines on Sexuality Education”, which are voluntary and non-mandatory in character, provide educators with guidance on how children and young people can best acquire the knowledge they need to protect themselves from coercion, abuse and exploitation, unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
According to UNAIDS and the World Health Organization (WHO), more than five million young people are living with the HIV virus worldwide and 45 percent of all new infections occur among young people aged from 15 to 24 years. Data from the International Planned Parenthood Federation show that, each year, at least 111 million new cases of curable sexually transmitted infections occur among young people aged between 10 and 24, and up to 4.4 million girls aged 15 to 19 seek abortions, the majority of which will be unsafe. Ten percent of births worldwide are to teenage mothers, who experience higher rates of maternal mortality than older women.
“At the moment, education is the best weapon we have for dealing with these issues,” said Mark Richmond, UNESCO Director of the Division for the Coordination of UN Priorities in Education, and UNESCO Global Coordinator for HIV and AIDS. “However, evidence tells us that by and large young people do not have access to the knowledge that could help them make informed decisions and thereby avoid tragic consequences. The new guidelines contribute to filling this gap.
“The document is not a curriculum,” Mr Richmond added. “Instead, it focuses on the ‘why’ and ‘what’ issues that require attention in strategies to introduce or strengthen sexuality education.”
The International Guidelines were co-authored by leading researcher Douglas Kirby, Senior Research Scientist, Education, Training and Research Associates, and Nanette Ecker, former director of International Education and Training at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS).
The publication is evidence-informed and rights-based. It draws on 87 studies from around the world and a review of curricula from 12 countries, as well as the Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education developed by SIECUS. It is designed to help education, health and other relevant authorities involved in the development and implementation of school-based sexuality education programmes and materials.
The International Guidelines explain what sexuality education is and why it is important. They are organized around six key concepts - Relationships; Values, Attitudes and Skills; Culture, Society and Law; Human Development; Sexual Behaviour; and Sexual and Reproductive Health – and 23 related topics, each of which is linked to learning objectives for four distinct age groups: 5-8 years, 9 -12, 12-15 and 15-18+.
“If the goal is to reduce risky sexual behaviours, then programmes need to be focused and include concrete recommendations,” said co-author Douglas Kirby. “The Guidelines present 32 of them, with 13 specifically aimed at changing behaviour. The focused approach needs to be skills-based, interactive and involve role play, on how to avoid unwanted sex or use condoms for example.”
“Maths and Science are valued as important knowledge for young people to have for their own sake,” added co-author Nanette Ecker. “A sound sexuality education should be equally valued.”
The “International Guidelines on Sexuality Education”, a conference-ready version of which will be presented at the International Sex and Relationships Education Conference in the United Kingdom on 7-9 September, 2009, will be formally launched at the United Nations in New York at the end of October.