The African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) has opposed the introduction of a Comprehensive Sexual Education (CSE) policy in the country’s school curriculum where kids would be able decide on their own about issues of sexual and reproductive health without first seeking the consent of their parents.
The policy, launched by the department of basic education in June last year, was aimed to equip teachers with new ways to impart knowledge on sexually transmitted infections, HIV and Aids, and TB to young people. At the time Deputy Basic Education Minister Enver Surty said the policy took into account religious and cultural concerns raised during its formulation stage.
According to Unesco, CSE is a curriculum-based process of teaching and learning about the cognitive, emotional, physical and social aspects of sexuality.
“It aims to equip children and young people with knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that will empower them to realize their health, well-being and dignity; develop respectful social and sexual relationships; consider how their choices affect their own well-being and that of others; and understand and ensure the protection of their rights throughout their lives,” a Unesco report said.
Surty said they were targeting not only pupils but also teachers because they should be able to impart the knowledge they received to the pupils. “There’s a correlation between incidents of HIV and Aids and lack of education and social economic pressures that pupils or learners or communities are subjected to.”
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But ACDP deputy president Wayne Thring expressed strong opposition to the policy. He said the party’s Federal Council of Provinces took the decision recently to oppose the CSE. Thring said the department had merely used the high rate of teenage pregnancies as its rationale for wanting to introduce CSE into the South African schools curriculum in an attempt to reduce teenage pregnancies.
“The ACDP has consistently opposed the current government campaign on teenage sexuality, which includes the lowering of the age of sexual consent, the lowering of the age at which our girl children may have abortions without parental permission, and the roll out of condoms and other contraceptives to our school children, again, without parental consent. The ACDP has also repeatedly stated that the responsibility for educating children, which includes educating them on matters of sexuality, lies primarily with parents and not the state,” Thring said.
The ACDP blamed the ruling party for the high rate of teenage pregnancies, and in particular, of those still at school. “Why? Our children have been exposed to pornography at early ages and this includes the proliferation of child pornography, which is on the increase. In addition, the handing out of condoms and other contraceptives to our school children, have over the years only served to entice our children to engage in early, and sometimes risky sexual experimentation,” he said.
But the basic education department defended the policy, saying it is meant to make a vital contribution to a societal problem. The department’s spokesperson, Elijah Mhlanga said the policy was not merely about reducing pregnancies among school children, but mainly about preventing unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, among others.
According to Mhlanga, approximately 18 000 pupils had fallen pregnant within the education system and the best way to deal with this was to introduce sexual education at schools.
“How does the ACDP help children who are already pregnant? If a child is raped and fallen pregnant what advice would they give to the child and what alternatives do they bring forward as the ACDP?” Mhlanga said.
He said when the policy was formulated, it took into account the existing policies and rights contained in the Constitution, such as the right to basic education, the right to privacy, the right of choice and the right to dignity.
“This policy is really not about pregnancy but about prevention. We know that young people are sexually active and therefore they must know how to deal with situations of pregnancy, STIs and what choices they have in case of rape and so on,” Mhlanga said.
But the ACDP said it viewed the CSE as “nothing short of lessons to our schoolchildren on immoral sexual behaviour”.
The party lambasted the CSE’s core philosophies that included that “children and adults should have regular sexual experiences either alone or with persons of either gender and a right to sexual pleasure, even at the youngest of ages is a primary right that trumps other rights. According to the policy, children have privacy and confidentiality rights that trump the rights of parents to guide their education in the area of human sexuality.
“Most societal sexual and gender norms, especially those based on religious beliefs, are unhealthy and repressive and should be changed.”
But Thring lashed out at the proposal saying this is nothing other than a sexual, social engineering experiment with children as the guinea pigs.
“The ACDP calls on all parents, civic and religious bodies, to reject the introduction of this reprehensible CSE agenda into our school curriculum,” he said.
Mhlanga said the CSE was not a core departmental function but as it is a societal matter, the department had to be involved to help educate children at a young age, and teachers were best suited for the task.