If you know me, or this blog, then you probably already know young people's sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) is a bit of a hobby horse of mine.
You probably don't know, however, that over the last couple of weeks I've stumbled across a number of blogs that don't like tabloids such as the Daily Mail and the Daily Express (as well as, often, the press in general). They're quite enjoyable and interesting reads.
Today, I combine the two.
This morning I was flicking through my Google Reader, when I saw a post by London Muslim. He was reporting that Mohammed is now the second most popular name in the UK, behind Jack. Not that surprising really - an awful lot of boys from Muslim families are named Mohammed and then known by their middle name to save confusion.
London Muslim linked to the article written about it by The Times, but naturally, I was curious to see what rubbish the Daily Mail would write about it. They seem to have missed that particularly story so far, but I did come across this:
Children as young as five to learn about masturbation and abortion under new UN guidelines
"Children as young as five should be taught about explicit sex acts, according to guidelines from the United Nations.So let's get this in perspective. UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) have published guidelines for sexual health education to be distributed to all Member States. The guidelines have been available in draft form since June 2009, and no Member State is obliged to follow them.
The advice also calls for youngsters to learn about abortion, same-sex relationships and sexually transmitted diseases."
All Member States, of course, will have differing extents of sexual health issues and cultural taboos and barriers to approaching those issues. Therefore, not all of the guidance will be directly relevant to everybody. Hence it is guidance, rather than prescription.
You'll also note that one detail in the headline is very quickly shown to also be complete bollocks, without even doing any background reading. Nowhere in the article does it mention abortion being tackled with children as young as five. It's not until you get to paragraph 8 that you read:
"When children are 12, teachers should be covering issues such as 'access to safe abortion and post-abortion care' and the 'use and misuse of emergency contraception'."...but by that point for many readers that damage has already been done - they'll believe that children will be taught to have abortions in infant school.
So what does the guidance say about masturbation?
Well, it suggests this about the topic which includes "masturbation" being "taught" for ages 5 to 8 (notice, not specifically at age 5) on page 49:
Distinguish between male and female bodiesSo teachers are not going to tell children to touch themselves, as is implied by the Mail. It's a bullet point amongst a number of learning objectives, which may be approached in what ever manner a trained professional will see fit. To me it looks like a gentle reminder to children not to be ashamed of their bodies.
• Appropriate names for body parts and their functions
• Differentiate between male and female sexual organs
• Girls and boys have private body parts that can feel pleasurable when touched by oneself
• Appropriate public behaviour concerning private body parts
• Nakedness and shame
It's quite common for girls to reach puberty at the age of 9, and boys from about 11 onwards. I don't see why it would be so wrong to to pre-warn them that their bodies are going to change quite soon and that they shouldn't be ashamed or embarrassed by it. Part of that is the fact that sex is a loving wonderful thing that gives pleasure. Nowhere in the guidelines will you find a recommendation to teach "about explicit sex acts", as suggested by the Mail.
EDIT: Oops! I missed a bit. There is a bit more about masturbation, on page 54:
Learning Objectives for Level I (5-8)Okay, I can kind of see where some people are getting a little bit upset. But I still don't think it's over the top. I would imagine that this is left until quite late in the age range, which would be age 8. By this point you would expect several of the children would already be starting to hit puberty.
Explain the concept of private parts of the body
• Most children are curious about their bodies
• 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 masturbation
• Some people masturbate and some do not
• Masturbation is not harmful, but should be done in private
They will already have been exposed to much more inappropriate sexual imagery in the media (such as the Daily Mail). Again, if done in a sensitive way, this will stop many children feeling confused and isolated. And on the next page:
Children are not ready for sexual contact with other people[end of edit]
On a more general note, children need to know about most sexual health issues before they are capable of having sex, despite what Ann Widdecombe might claim. Otherwise, for some children, it will already be too late. Better that children know about abortion and other potential encounter of unsafe or early sex before they encounter them first hand. You never know, it might help encourage them to wait. In fact, most recent evidence from Holland suggests they most likely will wait.
Remember, this is just one small section of a huge range of topics, including relationships and gender roles within the family - something that could only be a good thing. I suggest you take a look from page 36 onwards and make up your own mind.
What should be worrying the Mail is this, on page 6:
A report published in 2007 by the UK Youth Parliament, based on questionnaire responses from over 20,000 young people, says that 40 per cent of young people described the Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) they had received as either ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ with a further 33 per cent describing it as only average. Other key findings from the survey were that:But then, I wouldn't imagine that Daily Mail Readers would like to read a scathing attack on the dearth of sex education in our schools. Certainly not readers such as this:
• 43 per cent of respondents reported not having been taught anything about relationships;
• 55 per cent of the 12-15 year olds and 57 per cent of the 16-17 year old females reported not having been taught how to use a condom;
• Just over half of respondents had not been told where their local sexual health service was located.
So let's get this right... If an "enhanced CRB checked" "expert" teaches innocent children as young as 5 about masturbation, homosexuality, sex etc. then that is good for childrens' "welfare" to be applauded and promoted by the generally left-leaning, "liberal" luvvies..Well, yes, quite. These guidelines are exactly the same as a flasher in the park. Constructive criticism there from a Conservative Local Councillor who then proceeds to make exactly the same point on his blog, no extra research necessary.
On the other hand, if an ordinary "non-expert" member of the public, went to the local playground to "teach" children about masturbation etc. he/she would be arrested, DNA tested, charged and banged-up as a PAEDOPHILE, forced to sign the "sex offender's register" as a danger to children.
The lesson here is clear, if you want to abuse children with no fear of prosecution, make sure that the abuse is "official", that you are properly and officially "trained" with a nice "title" and certificate to practice.
No surprises that the United Nations, is behind this junk.
Welcome to HMP-Loonybin-England
- Cllr Jeremy Zeid (Con), Harrow, HMP-Loonybin-England, 10/9/2009 1:23
Or this person, who seems to think them Nasty Commie European Bastards have got something to do with it.
Oh dear god, the EUSSR is truly evil to even think up such a thing let alone go ahead and implement it. Disgusting!
- isis, london, 10/9/2009 8:47
The depressing thing is, these two arguments are made again and again, despite them patently not being true. More frightening is the number of comments accusing the UN (or EU, for the short of braincells, or our own Government) of being paedophiles directly grooming children. And of course it's all the fault of those woolly liberals and socialists.
Then comes the comment from 'Zoompad':
This is institutional child abuse. I was also abused as a child, and I feel very strongly about preserving the right for children to be children, without being deliberatly sexualised.
The shadowy figures who are bringing in these new laws ought to be forced to reveal their own identities; that way, we could all see who they are and what their motives are.
- Zoompad, Staffordshire, 10/9/2009 11:44
I've included the whole quote because I don't want to be accused of selective cutting and pasting and attacking victims of abuse. I'm very sorry to anyone who has ever been abused, but it's actually the second paragraph I'm interested in.
So, who are these shadowy figures who won't reveal their own identities, who are bringing in "laws" which aren't really laws and we don't really have any idea how they may or may not be implemented or ignored by our own Government? Who are these mysterious people?
Oh. Here they are. As revealed by a 30 second search around UNESCO's website. Just because you haven't heard of an organisation before, doesn't make them shadowy or secretive.
Honestly, what do all the uninformed comments on these articles really add to the debate, apart from the depressing knowledge of the existence of gullible fools who want to be told day in day out that the country is turning to shit?
We do not live in a world where children are not going to encounter sexual imagery if we simply don't talk about it.
Even less informed, however, seems to be another Tory politician, Nadine Dorries:
'Educating children and young people to believe that access to legal abortion is a right delivers a message which suggests that abortion is a lifestyle choice - a method of contraception as opposed to the incredibly traumatic and distressing experience it is for most young women.'
I have two problems with this quote. One is that she seems to think that children will be taught that abortion is a painless procedure that you can pop into your local surgery for in your lunch break. The other is that she denies that legal abortion should be a right. Which is a very glib claim to make in a country that does uphold your right to a legal abortion.
Let me tell you a little story.
I was recently in Tanzania to volunteer for the Hoja Project, which I helped set up in my friend Oswin's local community. We sponsor a number of children to go to the local secondary school, Lupunga.
Not long ago, nurses turned up at Lupunga School to check girls for pregnancy. They took them into a classroom, where the girls had to take their tops off and have their breasts and bellies prodded and squeezed.
At the end of it, the nurses decided there were three girls who were pregnant. One of them was one of our sponsored students, and the other two weren't. Appointments were made for them at the hospital to confirm that they were indeed pregnant.
When the hospital appointment came around, our sponsored student was indeed pregnant. The other two girls were not. I'll emphasise that these girls were not pregnant at the time of their hospital appointment.
The nurses had made no mistake, the girls had indeed been pregnant. But before their appointments, they had gone to get unsafe abortions, because they did not want to be kicked out of school, and there was no way they could have afforded a legal abortion. The only reason our student didn't join them is that she was more scared of dying than she was of being kicked out of school.
Luckily for her, she's our student, and we should be able to accommodate her elsewhere. Luckily for the other two girls, they're still alive. Many others in their situation are not so lucky.
So, Nadine Dorries, safe legal abortion is not a lifestyle choice. It's something that has the potential to save the lives of thousands if not millions of scared, vulnerable young girls who find themselves with nowhere to turn.
I tried to find the same story in the other major newspapers for comparison, but they don't seem to be running with it. And, as far as I can tell, the Mirror website doesn't even have an education section.
I was pleasantly surprised by the Sun, however, despite their apparent inability to differentiate bikinis and topless models from real stories on sexual health. In complete contrast to the Mail, in this article on sex education at least, they've taken quite a sensible, grown-up, matter-of-fact approach to reporting.
Maybe the Mail will grow up one day. I know what you're thinking. You're thinking it will never happen. Fear not, however, dear readers, for there is even a section in the UN guidelines to deal with this too:
Identify different forms of media
Distinguish between examples from reality and fiction (e.g. television, internet)
• Different mass media are positive and negative in their representation of people