By Adv Nadene Badenhorst, Legal Counsel of FOR SA

Earlier this year, Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) met with the Department of Basic Education to discuss the intended roll-out of Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) programmes in public schools.

Generally speaking, CSE takes on different forms and is sometimes referred to as “education, information or counselling on human sexuality”, “sexual and reproductive health training, education or information”, “HIV/Aids prevention education”, “life skills programs”, “rights-based sexuality education”, etc.

As such, CSE may seem fairly innocuous and even a good idea. In countries where CSE has already been implemented (including the USA, the UK, Australia, Sweden, etc) however, it has become clear that CSE has a different and more sinister agenda, namely the radical sexualisation of our children. In this regard, the following statement by the American College of Pediatricians is insightful:  “Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) goes far beyond sex ed, and is a dangerous assault on the health and innocence of children”.

This is because unlike traditional sex education, CSE is often very graphic and promotes high-risk sexual behaviours as healthy and normal. For example, it is not uncommon for CSE programmes to teach children (as young as five years old!) to masturbate;  to encourage acceptance and exploration of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities; to promote anal and oral sex, and teach that it is normal and safe; to promote sexual pleasure (including sexual responses towards inanimate objects, animals, minors, non-consenting persons, etc) and promiscuity as a right for children; to promote abortion as safe and without consequence; to promote condoms to children (as young as nine years old!) without informing them of their failure rates; to promote sexual counselling, information or services to minors without parental consent;  to teach children and youth that they are sexual from birth; to train children to advocate for their “sexual rights” in laws and policies, etc. (For more information on the harmful components of CSE, see for e.g. https://www.comprehensivesexualityeducation.org/)

Increasingly, governments (particularly in developing countries) are being pressured by the United Nations (who promotes and advances CSE through agencies such as the World Health Organisation, UNAIDS, UNESCO, UNICEF, etc) to implement CSE – under the guise that it will reduce teenage pregnancy, HIV/Aids and STD infection, will prevent violence against women, will help to reach gender equality etc.  Although described as “proven effective”, there is inadequate evidence of program effectiveness for most CSE programs. In fact, research has shown that most CSE programs appear to be more “policy-based” (or “ideology-based”) than “evidence-based”.

It should therefore not be surprising that parents, particularly those who hold to a Christian or more conservative worldview, have major concerns regarding the implementation of CSE in South African schools. What exactly will their children be taught, or exposed to – and at what age? What if they don’t agree with the CSE content – will they have the right to “opt [their children] out” of certain lectures or material? Will their children be tested for HIV/Aids, or referred to an abortion clinic, without their knowledge and consent? These are just some of the (very valid) concerns that parents have raised.

The Department of Basic Education’s response

The Department explained firstly that, at the behest of UNESCO and other UN agencies, South Africa (along with 20 other Eastern and Southern African countries) has made an international commitment to implement CSE (known as the “ESA Commitment”).

The Department assured us however that, far from taking a blanket approach to CSE, they will take a contextual approach to the implementation of CSE in South African schools. This implies finding “African solutions for African problems”. Amongst these, he mentioned the high infection rate of HIV/Aids in South Africa (2,000 children per week), the challenge of keeping (pregnant) girls in school, gender-based violence, lack of knowledge around menstruation, lack of proper sanitation, etc.

Given these basic challenges, the focus of CSE will be “sexuality education” (i.e. teaching children basic anatomy; recognising and dealing with abuse; physical and emotional changes during puberty; HIV/Aids and STIs; teenage pregnancy; etc) rather than “sex education” (teaching children how to have sex). (The proposed health education for children at foundation phase, intermediate phase, senior phase and further education and training, appear in the Integrated School Health Policy 2012).

According to the Deputy Director we met with, the core message will be that the best method (to prevent / curb HIV/Aids infection, teenage pregnancy etc) is abstinence.  Children will also be taught that you have the right to say no to sex. (This is particularly important in view of statistics that have shown that children’s sexual debut has now shifted from 16 to 11 years of age). In the last instance, (high school) children will be taught that if you cannot abstain, at least condomise. The focus is therefore on prevention. However, where prevention has failed and a girl has fallen pregnant, it is important for children to know (and therefore be taught) that the boy and the girl have responsibility to take care of the child, and to instruct them with regard to the various options including keeping the child and carry on schooling, adoption and only in the last instance, abortion.

This “sexuality education”, which will be age-appropriate, scientific and culturally/religiously relevant, will form part of the (broader) life orientation programme in public schools. Consultants are currently in the process of preparing policy packs for the implementation of CSE in schools, which have to be presented to the Department around June 2018. (This includes developing scripted lesson plans and activities, and training for teachers. Teachers who do not adhere to the prescripts, could be the subject of a complaint by a parent or child and face disciplinary action.) Thereafter, the Department intends to meet with life skills coordinators in schools to inform them of the programme and expectations. Thereafter, parents and School Governing Bodies (SGBs) – who are regarded by the Department as a critical stakeholder in their children’s education – will need to be informed and brought on board. According to the Department, roll out will probably only take place from 2019 and will be staggered, depending on resource, etc.

During the meeting, FOR SA was able to explain to the Department why parents (including particularly those who hold to a more religious or conservative worldview) are concerned about CSE, and to propose possible solutions to their concerns. While it does not appear as if it will be a possibility for parents to “opt out” of CSE (as a component of the broader Life Orientation programme in schools), we appealed to the Department to – at the very least – convene an information session for parents of each particular phase (i.e. at foundation, intermediate, etc)  at the beginning of every year to inform, and make available to them, the specific content which their children will be exposed to and taught in each semester – and to give parents an opportunity to ask questions, give input and together with the school, find ways of addressing any concerns. The Department was very impressed with and grateful for this constructive proposal, and undertook to recommend the specific inclusion of this proposal in the policy packs that are currently being prepared.

While we were comforted, to some extent, by what we were told at our meeting with the Department of Basic Education, it is important to keep a close eye on the issue and to also keep it in prayer! FOR SA will continue to engage with the Department in this regard to ensure that parents’ right to guide their children’s education in accordance with their own religious or moral views, and children’s own religious and related rights, remain protected.

Having obtained a BA LLB degree from the University of Stellenbosch, Nadene was awarded a scholarship to study a LL M degree in International Human Rights Law at the University of Essex, United Kingdom which she obtained cum laude.

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