Philippines tests sex education in public schools over Catholic Church objections

By Oliver Teves, AP
Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Philippines tests sex education in public schools

MANILA, Philippines — Philippine elementary and high schools will start teaching basic sex education as a pilot program in the conservative Roman Catholic nation, officials said Tuesday, brushing aside concerns by church leaders that it may encourage promiscuity among the youth.

The classes, however, won’t include information about contraceptives — another controversial topic in this heavily Catholic nation.

Starting this year, sex education will be integrated in regular subjects including science, health, English and physical education, said Assistant Education Secretary Teresita Inciong, who is heading the project funded by the U.N. Population Fund.

“It will be better if the schools teach sex education rather than children just picking this up from just anywhere like the Internet,” said Education Secretary Mona Valisno.

The Adolescent Reproductive Health program will be initially tested in 80 public elementary and 79 high schools, starting with grade five pupils aged 11-12, Inciong said.

The initiative, which Inciong said will mainly focus on explaining bodily changes and relationship with the other gender, has run into opposition from the dominant and influential Catholic Church, which earlier this year also objected to the free government distribution of condoms for fear of encouraging promiscuity.

Monsignor Pedor Qitorio, spokesman for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, said the church believes sex education should be the primary responsibility of parents. If it is taught to students, it should not start in grade school but in college, he said.

He said the church is opposed to the government style of teaching that is “too focused on the reproductive faculties because parents feel this will lead to promiscuity among the youth, encourage what we are avoiding — early practice of sexuality outside of marriage.”

Inciong said the use of condoms and other contraceptives will not be part of the curriculum, citing opposition from parents.

“They say that if you teach that, you are telling (children) you can have sex, but only safe sex,” she said. “But I have no doubt (children) know about that already.”

Instead, the lessons will discuss personal hygiene and physical changes during puberty like menstruation, Inciong said. More importantly, they will include teaching children to say no to inappropriate behavior by older relatives or strangers that lead to child molestation and sexual exploitation.

She said sex is a taboo subject in Philippine families and children learn about it from peers or the Internet rather than from their parents.

A more recent social phenomenon of children left behind by their parents working abroad also has taken a toll on the traditional family structure in the Philippines, where many kids are now brought up by grandparents, relatives or neighbors. A tenth of the population works abroad.

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