Sexuality education an imperative for children and young people in a world affected by AIDS
10 December 2009
In many parts of the world, a combination of social taboos, unavailability of sound information, lack of resources and infrastructure make it difficult for children and young people to access sexuality education aimed at improving knowledge and reducing risk. This leaves many young people vulnerable to coercion, abuse, exploitation, unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
According to the UNAIDS 2008 Global Report on the AIDS Epidemic, only 40% of young people aged 15-24 had accurate knowledge about HIV and transmission. It should come as no surprise that, against this background of insufficient levels of basic knowledge, young people aged 15-24 account for 40% of all new HIV infections (UNAIDS 2009 AIDS Epidemic Update).
In response to this challenge, the voluntary and non-mandatory International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education developed by UNESCO in partnership with UNAIDS, UNFPA, UNICEF and WHO seeks to assist education, health and other relevant authorities to develop and implement school-based sexuality education materials and programmes. The International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education is based on a rigorous review of evidence on sexuality education programmes and is aimed at education and health sector decision-makers and professionals.
If we are to make an impact on children and young people before they become sexually active, comprehensive sexuality education must become part of the formal school curriculum, delivered by well trained and supported teachers.
Michel Sidibé, UNIADS Executive Director
Sexuality education can play a key role in improving knowledge and reducing sexual risk behaviours among young people. Equipped with better knowledge, information and skills, young people can be empowered to make informed decisions about sexual choices.
“If we are to make an impact on children and young people before they become sexually active, comprehensive sexuality education must become part of the formal school curriculum, delivered by well trained and supported teachers,” says Michel Sidibé, UNAIDS Executive Director. “Teachers remain trusted sources of knowledge and skills in all education systems and they are a highly valued resource in the education sector response to AIDS.”
The International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education was co-authored by leading experts in the field of sexuality education and subjected to extensive review and comment by a global panel of experts and practitioners from civil society organizations, ministries of education and international agencies. Volume I of the International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education focuses on the rationale for sexuality education and provides sound technical advice on characteristics of effective programmes. It is the outcome of a rigorous review of the literature on the impact of sexuality education and sexual behaviour, drawing upon 87 studies from around the world.
Numerous studies show that with the right information and skills, young people can change their behaviour to reduce the risk of acquiring HIV infection or passing it on to others.
Mark Richmond, UNESCO’s Global Coordinator on HIV and AIDS
A companion document (Volume II) focuses on the topics and learning objectives to be covered in a ‘basic minimum package’ on sexuality education for children and young people from 5 to 18+ years of age and includes a bibliography of useful resources. It was informed by a review of curricula from 12 countries, as well as other international models.
“Numerous studies show that with the right information and skills, young people can change their behaviour to reduce the risk of acquiring HIV infection or passing it on to others,” says Mark Richmond, UNESCO’s Global Coordinator on HIV and AIDS and the Director for the Division for the Coordination of UN Priorities in Education. “At a minimum, HIV and AIDS education needs to include information on the HIV virus and its modes of transmission. At some point, HIV and AIDS education must introduce sex and relationships education - simply because over 75% of all HIV infections occur through sexual transmission.”
The UN organizations called on policy-makers to listen to young people, families, teachers and other practitioners, and use the International Technical Guidance to make sexuality education an integral part of the national response to the HIV pandemic.
UNESCO and its partners including UNAIDS, UNFPA, UNICEF and WHO, as well as a wide range of other partners, will support governments in operationalising the International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education at regional and country level. The two volumes of the International Technical Guidance will be published in all the six UN languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish) as well as Portuguese.