Children as young as five to learn about masturbation and abortion under new UN guidelines
by Kirsty Walker
10th September 2009
Children as young as five should be taught about explicit sex acts, according
to guidelines from the United Nations.
The advice also calls for youngsters to learn about abortion, same-sex relationships and sexually transmitted diseases.
The draft report on sex education has been compiled by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation
The guidance is due to be issued to governments, local authorities and education bodies around the world by the end of next month.
But it has provoked an international outcry. Critics claim that addressing the issue of masturbation, which is contained in the plan, is too explicit for young children and removes the responsibility of parents to teach their own children about sex.
The guidelines break down suitable topics for discussion into four age groups. Among the most controversial recommendations are for teachers to begin discussing subjects such as masturbation with children from the age of five.
They recommend teachers should discuss the idea that 'girls and boys have private body parts that can feel pleasurable when touched by oneself'.
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'.
The guidelines also recommend young people should learn about the 'right to and access to safe abortion'. The report is intended to help countries improve sex education and sexual health, especially in the developing world.
UNESCO officials said it was up to governments and educational bodies to decide whether to implement the guidance.
But Tory MP Ann Widdecombe said: 'This is wholly inappropriate and is destroying parental responsibility. It is parents who should determine the pace of revelation, not the authorities.
'What one child may be ready to learn about at the age of ten, another child may not be ready for until 13. It should be up to parents to make these decisions.
'When it comes to innocent children at the tender age of five years old, it is absolutely appalling these guidelines suggest that they should be taught about subjects such as masturbation.'
Fellow Tory MP Nadine Dorries said: '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.'
UNESCO officials last night insisted that the guidelines will help to reduce the risk of infections from sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies among the young.
They added that the guidelines had been compiled for two years by a team of experts, who have drawn on more than 80 international studies of sex education.
The report, which is estimated to have cost over £200,000, is currently under discussion. But its content is unlikely to change substantially before it is officially released.
Mark Richmond, UNESCO's global co-ordinator for HIV and AIDS, said: 'It doesn't mean that teaching about masturbation must take place at five years old. It may be mentioned, but it is up to parents and teachers about whether this is done. The guidelines are forms of advice.'
A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said the Government was already conducting a review of sex education.
The spokesman added that sex education is 'essential' if young people are to make responsible decisions.