Comprehensive Sexuality Education: what can parents do?

by Daniela Ellerbeck
31 May 2019

By Adv Nadene Badenhorst, FOR SA Legal Counsel

Many parents have asked what they can do about the inclusion of sexually explicit and/or inappropriate content in the proposed new Life Orientation curriculum to be taught in our schools.  They are concerned that the new curriculum will undermine their parental rights to raise their child/ren according to their religious (or moral) convictions and beliefs.

The Department’s response

Following a public outcry from parents and even the teachers’ union SAUO in response to the  Sunday Times article entitled “Grade 4s to learn about masturbation in new life orientation curriculum”, the Department of Basic Education (“the Department”) has denied and distanced itself from this media report. The Department confirmed that “Dr Eve”, a sex therapist whose liberal views on sex and human sexuality are well-known, has been a member of the team reviewing the curriculum.  

The new curriculum is alleged to include topics such as masturbation, sexual consent, gender non-conformity and pornography and to portray these as being “mainstream”.  However, the Department has stated that it has not yet completed its research, nor has the new curriculum been written/published, nor has the necessary (and extensive) teacher training taken place.  They say that this outcry is therefore premature, particularly because this new curriculum is only due for implementation in 2020.

The view of the Department is that there is a significant problem in schools because there are multiple cases of teenage girls becoming pregnant and the transmission of sexual diseases such as HIV/AIDS.  They, therefore, believe that they have a responsibility to ensure that children are taught on this topic. 

Parental rights and choice

While this argument is clearly valid, it nevertheless remains the right of parents to teach their own children on a subject which has the potential to influence the course of their entire life.  This must remain squarely the prerogative and the right of parents, not the State.  The danger – clearly evidenced by how Comprehensive Sexuality Education (“CSE”) has been implemented internationally – is that CSE is typically aimed at sexualizing children, rather than teaching them about sex and its responsibilities.   So while it may well be that many parents are happy for their children to be taught whatever the State may deem appropriate, the rights of those who do not must nevertheless be respected and upheld.

FOR SA has met with the Department on a number of occasions to raise concerns on how CSE will be implemented in South Africa.  It is evident that – unlike a subject like mathematics – teaching on sex and sexuality is clearly laden with underlying values.  Our talks have therefore mainly revolved around the importance of respecting parents’ rights since they have the primary right and responsibility to raise their own children according to their own system of values and beliefs.  Parents should therefore not be forced to expose their children to teaching about sex and sexuality, which may well be in conflict with their own values, beliefs and opinions.   

When pressed by FOR SA, the Department’s spokesperson, Mr Mhlanga, said that he would only respond to the following questions in writing:

  1. Whether parents would be given the opportunity to see the curriculum in advance;
  2. Whether parents would be given the opportunity to know what it contained before it was taught to their children; and
  3. Whether parents would be given the opportunity to withdraw their children from exposure to such teaching should it conflict with their values as parents.

Action plan

FOR SA will be meeting with the Department of Basic Education on Monday 10th June to gain clarification on these issues, and put forward proposals which we believe will address the issues while at the same time protecting parental rights and choice. We will issue a statement and our recommendations for further action thereafter. For more information and developments with regard to this issue, follow us on our webpage at and on Facebook at “Freedom of Religion SA”.

Nadene is an Advocate, and practised as a member of the Cape Bar for a number of years. She holds both a BA LLB degree from the University of Stellenbosch and a LLM degree in International Human Rights Law (cum laude) from the University of Essex. She currently serves as a Next Generation Board Member on the Advocates Africa Board, representing Southern Africa.

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