UK’s Plan to ban sex education for children under nine

UK’s Plan to ban sex education for children under nine
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Schools in England will be prohibited from teaching sex education to children under nine, according to new draft government guidance.

The draft guidance bans teaching about gender identity and delays lessons on puberty and the menstrual cycle. It sets explicit age limits, including not covering sexual violence until Year 9.

If adopted, the draft Relationships, Sex, and Health Education (RSHE) guidelines would implement a comprehensive ban on lessons about gender identity, labelling it a “highly contested and complex” concept unsuitable for schools.

The guidelines further specify that any education on transgender individuals should centre on the legal aspects of transitioning, noting that “an individual must be 18 before they can legally reassign their gender,” and that during their time in school, “boys cannot be legally classified as girls, and vice versa.”

The UK Prime Minister’s official account posted the news on X, formerly Twitter, writing: 

“We’re making changes to sex education to protect children:

  • Schools will not teach about the contested concept of gender identity
  • Parents will be able to see materials being used in class
  • New age ratings for sensitive topics”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said, “Parents rightly trust that when they send their children to school, they are kept safe and will not be exposed to disturbing content that is inappropriate for their age.

“That’s why I was horrified to hear reports of this happening in our classrooms last year”, he added. 

General secretary of the National Education Union Daniel Kebede told Politico that the guidelines were “yet more culture war noise from an ill-informed and out-of-touch government.”

Experts Warn Harmful Effects from Delaying Sex Education to Children

Delaying sex education for students is considered damaging by many experts, as it prevents children from receiving crucial information at an early age.

An NSPCC survey found that one in 25 primary school children had been shown or sent a naked or semi-naked image by an adult, equivalent to one child in every class. However, under the new guidance, children would be unable to learn about specific issues like sexual harassment until secondary school.

Additionally, comprehensive sex education programs have been successful in reducing rates of sexual activity, sexual risk behaviours, STIs, and adolescent pregnancies, as well as delaying the onset of sexual activity.

Evidence also shows that sex education helps reduce instances of unwanted, non-consensual sex.

A report by the Children’s Commissioner for England revealed alarming statistics regarding children’s exposure to pornography. The average age at which children first encounter pornography is 13, with 10% having seen it by age nine and half by age 13.

The report highlighted that young people are frequently exposed to violent pornography, depicting coercive, degrading, or pain-inducing sex acts; a staggering 79% had encountered such content before the age of 18. The report also found that frequent users of pornography are more likely to engage in physically aggressive sex acts.

Risks in Restricting RSHE Curriculum Flexibility

The announcement of the draft guidance suggests that many children may be exposed to explicit content before schools are permitted to educate them about it.

Dr. Sophie King-Hill  raised concerns regarding the potential imposition of restrictions and boundaries on the Relationships, Sex, and Health Education (RSHE) curriculum.

In a submission to the RSHE Women and Equalities Select Committee Hearing, Dr. King-Hill highlighted the importance of flexibility within the RSHE curriculum. She emphasised that a lack of flexibility could compromise safeguarding efforts and hinder educators from effectively addressing the needs of children and young people within their unique contexts.

A section from the draft guidance states, “schools should not, however, teach about the details of violent abuse before Y9 as it is important that pupils are not introduced to distressing concepts when they are too young to understand them”. 

According to the draft guidance, schools will be able to utilise the new guidelines once the final version is published later this year. 

Dr. King-Hill warned that scaling back RSHE could have serious consequences, including a potential increase in teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), transphobia, and homophobia. 

She also cautioned that it could contribute to a rise in violence against women and girls, exacerbate the male mental health crisis, lead to an increase in suicide among vulnerable groups, elevate male-on-male violence, and result in poor mental health outcomes for the LGBTQ+ community.

Schools will be expected to follow the finalised guidance after a 9-week consultation period. 

 

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