Approaches And Controversies In Other Countries
Similar to young people in the United States, youth around the world are curious about sexual information and experiment with sexual behaviors. Not surprisingly authorities in other countries responsible for sexuality education have different ways of approaching such education. Unlike the United States, most western European countries and Canada have neither racial heterogeneity nor the poverty the United States has (MacFarlane 1997). Program implementation under such constraints is much more difficult for U.S. educators. In many European nations, such as Sweden, France, and the Netherlands, governments—and thus social policy in this area—tend to be more liberal and better financially supported than in the United States. The conservative religious lobby in these countries is not nearly as evident, vocal, or powerful as in the United States. The focus in these nations is on reducing unprotected intercourse rather than trying to completely eliminate sexual behavior among the young (Greenberg, Bruess, and Hafner 2000). Due to the absence of an organized or persuasive opposition many European countries have little difficulty routinely offering students sequential sexuality education throughout their adolescent years—not just during a select few years. The philosophy underlying many curricula is that sexuality education should be considered as important to a young person's education as science, literature, language, or mathematics. In sharp contrast to the United States, most European countries, as well as Canada and Australia, offer access to contraceptives both in school clinics and in the community. In the Netherlands, for example, the various family planning organizations throughout the country develop curricula and advertise the availability of contraceptives. Essentially, the European approach is two-pronged: ongoing education in a variety of crucial areas (anatomy, sexual health, reproduction, contraception) and easy access to contraceptive clinics and contraceptives. Comparable to the United States, however, is the almost universal problem, even in Sweden, concerning the lack of teacher training in sexuality content.
In Francophone Africa, a girl's access to higher education is often halted by early pregnancy and consequently by early family responsibilities. Thus, the government has recognized the need for reproductive health education among this group. Although the government has tried to implement programs in sexuality courses, the students receive information only in their biology classes. One group, the Ministry of Youth and Sports, has implemented the Youth Promotion Program that conducts counseling life education. In other parts of Africa, such as Cameroon, the law states that, "Sex education for girls—especially information on contraceptive methods, STDs, and AIDS—receive special emphasis." Unfortunately, the reality is that education concerning young girls' sexuality remains taboo, except in the Muslim community, which teaches only from the religious perspective (Center for Reproductive Law and Policies 1999).
Over the past several years, the Catholic Church in Poland has played a major role in the teaching of young people in the schools. The availability of information related to sexuality has been restricted to sexual relations after one is married. Due to the lack of sexual information, and a religious prohibition against practicing birth control, many women use natural family planning methods, which increase their chances of an unwanted pregnancy (Nowicka 1996). Wanda Nowicka states: "Although the exact figures do not exist, it is estimated that there are from 180,000 to 300,000 unwanted pregnancies per year and, the sex education program under preparation by the ministry of Education, encompasses Catholic teaching on sexuality and a patriarchal model of the family in which a woman's main role is that of mother and wife, and that the only contraception that is recommended as acceptable is natural family planning."
Religious convictions also play a crucial role in the delivery of sexuality education in the Dominican Republic. As Article XII of the Concordato guarantees, the cardinal not only has the right to question state policy regarding sex education of students, but also can dictate this policy and even decide who teaches such courses (Women's Health Journal, 2000). As it is currently formulated, the public schools "have to conform to the Catholic morals and doctrine" (p. 2).
Although many countries strive to increase young people's access to sexuality information, Chile has recently regressed in this area due to pressure from several conservative groups. Currently in Chile, there are over 40,000 adolescent pregnancies every year, which comprise 20 percent of all pregnancies in the country. Moreover, AIDS continues to escalate at a rate that requires urgent solutions. Despite such trends the Chilean government has changed their curriculum to a more conservative program that focuses on how to "avoid shortcomings in the formation of values." It replaced the previous curriculum which emphasized a program for "dialogue on feelings and sexuality" (Gonzalez 1996).
There are considerable differences between countries and how they view and implement sexuality education for youth. Some nations have strong and vocal religious forces that dictate morality, and thus policy, and ultimately educational instruction. Others view sexuality education as just one of many life skills that young people require education in and thus permit greater freedom in accessing information and contraceptives. Regardless of the country, culture, or language, however, the impact of the family and marriage is crucial to the sexuality education of all young people.
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