UN 'promoting masturbation'

2009-09-15 13:18


Paris - A United Nations plan to improve the sexual education of the world's children has come under attack from parts of the American right, which accuse the organisation of promoting masturbation and abortion.

Last week, the UN cultural organisation Unesco released the draft International Guidelines on Sexual Education intended for discussion among experts in the coming months before a final version is sent to national authorities.

The guidelines are meant as a "global template" of ideas to help young people make safe and responsible sexual choices, avoid sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy and escape prostitution or other abuses.

But one section of the draft in particular appears to have caught the eye of American headline writers. "UN report advocates teaching masturbation to five-year-olds," ran one story on the Fox News website.

The Fox report and many more like it from mainly right-wing US media and internet outlets, focused on the Unesco report's suggested syllabus for school children aged between five and eight years old.

This states: "It is natural to explore and touch parts of one's own body. Bodies can feel good when touched. Touching and rubbing one's genitals is called masturbating. Some people masturbate and some do not.

"Masturbation is not harmful, but should be done in private," it adds.

By the age of nine, children following the programme will learn what their local laws on abortion are and that "legal abortion performed under sterile conditions by medically trained personnel is safe".

Traditional morality

And that, while "not having sexual intercourse is the most effective form of contraception" ... "condoms and other contraceptives (including emergency contraception) can be used to prevent unintended pregnancy."

At age 12, children learn that "contraceptives and condoms give people the opportunity to enjoy their sexuality without unintended consequences" but that "there are ways to give and receive sexual pleasure without penetration".

While Unesco insists the guidelines are not binding and will be adapted according to local norms in countries that choose to adopt them, American conservatives see a move to undermine traditional morality.

They complain in particular that the report privileges the role of teachers and educational authorities, accusing the United Nations of sidelining parents and of promoting homosexuality and abortion.

"Excluding parents from the process keeps them from being aware of how frequently 'sexuality education' indoctrinates against traditional values," complains Janice Shaw Crouse, writing for the American Thinker.

Crouse, who works for the Concerned Women of America conservative Christian pressure group, accuses Unesco of seeking to "establish a bureaucracy to teach masturbation and contraception".

Some US activists link the Unesco report to what they allege are attempts to promote abortion around the world by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) - a body which Unesco officials admit has become a "bugbear" for the US right.


An early draft of the report noted UNFPA's participation in its production, but the credit has been removed from a later version available online.

The Unesco report's American authors have received e-mail threats since the draft's publication, according to UN officials.

One of the authors, Nanette Ecker, works for the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), a charity formed in 1964 to promote sex education and a regular target of conservative ire.

Despite receiving government funding of its own, it campaigns against federal money for "abstinence-only" sex education and runs a newsletter called International Right Wing Watch under the slogan: "They're up to no good".

"Once again the worst of US radical ideology is being exported around the world through these guidelines based on SIECUS recommendations," Crouse said of SIECUS' employees involvement in the United Nations report.

The Paris-based UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation defends itself against the charges.

"It's not a curriculum. There's nothing compulsory about it," Unesco spokesperson Sue Williams told AFP.

"This work was carried out at the request of member states and UN organisations, and consists of putting on the table a compilation of what is known about the subject, without taboos," she said.

"All options are discussed, from abstinence to abortion... each government will make of it what it likes, adapt it to different cultural contexts."

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