On Sex Education: Can and should the government teach sex education?

Rep. Kaka Bag-ao, AKBAYAN Party
July 22, 2010
Media Officer: Annie Bag-ao (09088849546)

On Sex Education: Can and should the government teach sex education?

(Last Wednesday, DepEd Sec. Luistro Armin hastily cut short the pilot-testing of  the controversial sex education program.This legal briefer tackles the issue head-on:  Why should there be sex education? Can sex education be conducted in schools? Does the Government have the legal mandate to develop policies and programs that promote sex education? )

Sex  Education. The mere utterance of such a phrase drives people into an orgasmic frenzy of discussions for and against teaching this subject in school. Both opposing camps will argue that each is after the welfare of the child by teaching or not teaching sex education in school. Everyone seems to be looking out for the general welfare of the children. And yet, both sides cannot seem to agree on how.

Perhaps, the best way to put everything in perspective is to define sex education as applied to the Philippines is in the context of the current problem besetting Philippine society in terms of sexual health and sexual hygiene. For purposes of this article, the use of the adjective “sexual” can further be narrowed to refer to the reproductive organs of the individuals. “Sex education” refers to a learning process where children become aware of their bodies, understand their sexuality as well as be provided with information to protect themselves from abuses and other sex-related risks.

The Department of Health recently announced an HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Philippines after an alarming 100% increase of HIV/AIDS positive cases in the country. In 2009, 4,971 cases were already reported. Former DOH secretary Esperanza Cabral announced that by the end of 2010, the number is expected to increase to 9,000 and in 2012, 32, 000 cases is projected. According to the Philippine National Aids Institute, 18% of these HIV/AIDS victims are 24 years old and below.

Given the dire projections presented, it is a concern for everyone that the educating the individual for that matter is a must especially considering that the age of those that get infected are 24 years old and below — old enough to know better but still young enough to understand fully the implications of their actions.

In a recent study by the Guttmacher Institute on Unintended Pregnancy and Induced Abortion in the Philippines, an alarming birth rate of 30% in the Philippines belong to the 15-24 years old age group and that about 1.43 Million pregnancies in the country each year are unintended. One third of these unwanted pregnancies are ended by abortion, where eight out of ten contracts health complications.

Noticeably, the individuals who are at risk are within the same age bracket as those at risk from HIV/AIDS. In the issue of unintended pregnancy, a corollary issue is raised as regards abortion and the health complications that usually accompany abortions.   Both issues on unintended pregnancy and abortion are by themselves deserving of separate dissertation but for purposes of this article, both are urgent issues as these affect the health of the youth and ultimately the State. A healthy young population guarantees the survival of the State.

A recent controversy on the issue of sex education in school came about as a result of a program initiated by the Department of Education (DepED) on “Adolescent Reproductive Health Program” for selected 11 and 12 year old elementary and high school children. The program was to be integrated with English, Science, Health and Physical Education subjects. The project was funded by the United Nations Population Fund. Although the said program was said to teach “sex education” among children, DepED said that it would focus more on personal hygiene, physical changes, relating with other genders and would not include lessons on condoms and other contraceptives.

The political party Ang Kapatiran sued DepED before the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City on the argument that the sex education being promoted by DepED contravenes section 12, Article II of the 1987 Constitution where it states that “the natural and primary right and duty of parents in the rearing of the youth for civic efficiency and the development of moral character shall receive the support of the Government.” Although the case is being heard by the court, the suit again highlights the conflict between the pros and the cons on sex education in school.

In the United States, the right of the parents in educating their children is an established right. A parent’s decision in rearing one’s child is protected as a privacy right. Whether or not foreign language could be thought to their minor children was considered as within the ambit of parental liberty (Meyer v Nebraska). This doctrine was expanded to include the right to guide one’s child intellectually and religiously as forming a substantial part of the liberty and freedom of the parent (Pierce v Society of Sisters).  In Wisconsin v Yoder, the US Supreme Court struck down a compulsory attendance law by virtue of the right of Amish parents to guide the religious upbringing of their children absent a compelling state interest.

All these cases, in a manner of speaking, pose a formidable legal contraceptive to defeat conceiving sex education in school. If the primary precept is that the parents have the primary right and duty in educating their children, any State policy will have to pass the test of whether the action taken violates this parental privacy right.

But what if, as the DepED astutely pointed out, they are themselves incapable of or did not receive sex education when they were in school? What or how will they teach their children? This is where the State steps in as parens patriae.

Section 15 of Article II of the 1987 Constitution clearly states that “[t]he State shall protect and promote the right to health of the people and instill health consciousness among them.  Likewise, Section 13 of Article II points to the State’s obligation to the youth: ”[t]he State recognizes the vital role of the youth in nation-building and shall promote and protect their physical, moral, spiritual, intellectual, and social well-being“.  How can the State be assured that its youth will be able to contribute to nation-building and assure the survival of the State if they are dying from HIV/AIDS, STD or abortion as a result of the school not being able to provide them proper education on the nuances of their sexuality?  After all, education like what alternative lawyers do with community paralegals results to empowerment of the people.

Going beyond the 1987 Constitution, the Philippines is a signatory to the Convention on the   Rights of the Child. As a signatory to the treaty, the Philippines is obligated to insure that the well-being of the child is amply protected and guaranteed through proper health, proper education and as a matter of course, proper sex education.  R.A. 8504 or the Philippine AIDS Protection and Control Act mandates, subject to certain parameters on the manner and method of teaching, require DepED to provide education to the youth on the AIDS prevention and protection. Clearly, there is a surfeit of laws that support the proposition that sex education should be taught in school.

Father Joaquin Bernas, in his article “Parents and sex education” proposes that both the pros and the cons on the issue of sex education arrive at a compromise similar to the issue on religious instruction. With due respect to the well-meaning proposal, it is submitted that there can be no compromise on the issue of the health and well-being of the child. Sex education is a necessity within the present context of Philippine society. Perhaps the manner and method of teaching sex education, i.e. language or visual aids used, can be subject of compromise, but the objective of giving the child the opportunity to learn how to appreciate and take care of one’s health is the very key to the survival of the State and the people itself. Knowledge and awareness promote well-being. Ignorance, on the other hand, kills.


Akbayan Rep. Kaka Bag-ao is the second nominee of Akbayan Party-list. She is one of the authors of the newly filed Reproductive Health Bill.

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