“In many parts of the world, young people are receiving inadequate sexuality education, making them vulnerable to HIV, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), unintended pregnancy, and sexual exploitation and abuse according to UNESCO. To address this challenge, they have commissioned the preparation of International Guidelines on Sexuality Education, in partnership with UNFPA and other agencies.
According to the UNAIDS 2008 Global Report on the AIDS Epidemic, only 40 per cent of young people aged 15-24 had accurate knowledge about HIV and transmission. In addition, young people aged 15-24 account for 45 per cent of all new HIV infections. To complicate matters, they are often discouraged from openly discussing sexual matters by adults, including parents and teachers, and approach adulthood faced with conflicting and confusing messages about sexuality and gender.
The International Guidelines were written by a leading researcher and a leading practitioner, with extensive inputs from international agencies, ministries of education and civil society organizations. They provide an “evidence-informed approach to effective sex, relationships and HIV/STI education” for children and young people.
According to the guidelines, effective sexuality education is a vital part of HIV prevention and is also critical to achieving universal access targets for prevention, treatment, care and support. Properly designed and implemented programmes can help reduce young people’s risk of HIV and other STI infections, unintended pregnancy, and coercive or abusive sexual relationships.
The main goal of sexuality education is to help young people at primary and secondary school levels to acquire knowledge, skills and values to make informed choices about their sexual lives. It is a key component of empowering young people to protect themselves from HIV, one of the nine priority focus areas for UNAIDS under the Joint action for results: UNAIDS outcome framework 2009-2011.
The guidelines recommend teaching that is “age-appropriate, culturally relevant and scientifically accurate”, and delivered within a setting where young people feel free to explore their attitudes and practices.
The International Guidelines are aimed primarily at education and health sector decision-makers, in particular ministries of education and health, and education professionals such as curriculum developers, programme implementers and teachers. They comprise:
1. an outline of the “basic minimum package” of topics and learning objectives for a comprehensive sexuality education programme from age 5 to 18+ years;
2. an updated analysis of the evidence related to behaviour change interventions among young people;
3. technical advice on the characteristics of effective programmes and important steps to implement them;
4. a bibliography of useful resources for policy-makers, practitioners and implementers recommended by international experts.
The learning objectives are grouped under six key concepts:
2. values, attitudes and skills;
3. culture, society and law;
4. human development;
5. sexual behaviour; and
6. sexual and reproductive health.
These concepts are addressed across four age groups: 5 to 8 years (Level 1); 9 to 12 years (Level 2); 12 to 15 years (Level 3); 15 to 18+ years (Level 4), with deliberate overlap between levels 3 and 4 in order to accommodate the broad age range of learners who may be in the same class. A set of benchmarks to monitor content and assess progress is also provided, and the guidelines can be adapted depending on the country and the context.
These International Guidelines, which will be finalised and implemented before the end of 2009, are one step in building political and technical leadership among education and health authorities to ensure that children and young people have access to the knowledge and skills they need in their personal, social and sexual lives. “
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