SEXUALITY EDUCATION – Comprehensive sexuality education protects children and helps build a safer, inclusive society

Research carried out by UNESCO at national and international level has demonstrated the benefits of comprehensive sexuality education, including delayed sexual initiation, reduced risk-taking, increased use of contraception, and improved attitudes related to sexual and reproductive health….

Sexuality education is also essential to prevent and combat sexual abuse against children, sexual violence and sexual exploitation. The comprehensive Council of Europe Convention on Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (Lanzarote Convention 2007) requires States to “ensure that children, during primary and secondary education, receive information on the risks of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse, as well as on the means to protect themselves, adapted to their evolving capacity”, and recommends that:

Each Party shall take the necessary legislative or other measures to encourage and support the setting up of information services, such as telephone or Internet helplines, to provide advice to callers, even confidentially or with due regard for their anonymity.”

The Lanzarote Committee Report 2017 shows how far there is to go in implementing these comprehensive recommendations and legal requirements.

The importance of sexuality education to prevent children from falling prey to sexual offenders online was highlighted during the period of confinement during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Committee stressed that children would became increasingly vulnerable to online grooming, sexual extortion, cyber-bullying and/or other sexual exploitation facilitated by information and communication technologies. The Committee urged States to step up information on risks and on children’s rights online, as well as counselling and support services. In this context, in some countries, such as Estonia, sexuality education continued to be provided as part of online schooling….

Likewise, sexuality education is crucial to prevent gender-based violence and discrimination against girls and women…. It is also an ideal context for raising awareness about the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women, including access to modern contraception and safe abortion….

Research carried out in the European region under the auspices of the World Health Organization indicates that the teenage birth rate tends to be much higher in countries such as Bulgaria and Georgia, where no mandatory comprehensive sexuality education programmes are in place….

By providing factual, non-stigmatising information on sexual orientation and gender identity as one aspect of human development, comprehensive sexuality education can help to save lives. It can contribute to combating homophobia and transphobia, at school and beyond, and to creating a safer and more inclusive learning environment for all….

FULL COMMENT, by Dunja Mijatović, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, 21 July 2020 + PHOTO (also available in French and Russian)