Sex education in Irish schools March 5, 2014Posted by Tomboktu in Education, Health, Human Rights.
In yesterday’s Irish Times, Jacky Jones uses her column to attack the advocacy of sexual abstinence until marriage as part of Relationships and Sexuality Education in Irish second-level schools. She reminds her readers that “Anyone over 17 years of age, married or single, gay or straight, can choose to have, or not have, consensual sex at any time.”
One of the interesting nuggets she draws attention to is that the Department of Education and Skills cites European human rights law in its 2010 circular to schools reminding them of their obligations (pdf of circular here).
1.5. Access to sexual and health education is an important right for students under the terms of the Article 11.2 of the European Social Charter. The Council of Europe European Committee of Social Rights, which examines complaints regarding breaches of the Charter, has indicated it regards this Article as requiring that health education “be provided throughout the entire period of schooling” and that sexual and reproductive health education is “objective, based on contemporary scientific evidence and does not involve censoring, withholding or intentionally misrepresenting information, for example as regards contraception or different means on maintaining sexual and reproductive health.”
Jones asserts in her article that Catholic schools are not entitled to promote Catholic views on sexuality. I don’t know enough about the rights of a Catholic school to know if that is correct, but there is a further aspect Jones did not mention. The Department of Education circular she quotes from also cites the Education Act:
1.4. Regard must also be had to Section 30 (2) (e) under which a child may not be required to attend instruction in any subject which is contrary to the conscience of the parent of the student, or in the case of a student who has reached 18, the student.
At some stage in the mid 1990s I attended the launch, in the city’s museum, of the Derry Pride Festival. A few of us were amused when some Free Presbyterians showed up outside to protest, singing hymns: a handful of zealots were not a threat. But we were mistaken to see it only as amusing. One of the people at the launch inside the museum was the teenage son of one of the singing protesters outside.
Jones points out in her article that we have no information on whether restrictions on young people’s rights to objective relationships and sexuality education are practised, although I would bet that the Opus Dei school in Dublin does not teach objectively about the role of contraception.
The Education Act was passed in 1998, before the European Committee of Social Rights was asked to rule on the Croatian case that the Department quotes in its 2010 circular. It is time to re-visit Section 30(2)(e) to ensure that it cannot be used by parents to restrict their children’s rights to full RSE education.