Russia: Vow to Europe to Offer Sex Ed Angers Parents

By ANNA MALPAS (The Moscow Times)

Vladimir Filonov / MT
Boys giggling at a shop window lined with mannequins on Tverskaya Ulitsa. Schools must start offering sex education under the European Social Charter.

Russia has one of the world’s highest rates of HIV infection among young people. At the same time, schools are teaching students that sexually transmitted diseases are caused by a “frivolous lifestyle,” and textbooks fail to mention the word “condom.”

“There is no sex education in the modern sense in Russia,” said Alexei Bobrik, deputy director of the Open Health Institute, an NGO that runs HIV education programs. “Not a single government-approved textbook uses the word ‘condom.'”

The lack of modern sex education in Russian schools may have to change after Russia signed up to the European Social Charter on May 20.

Among the provisions of the charter, Russia ratified an article on the “right to protection of health.” A fact sheet issued by the European Social Charter in March explains that health education at schools should be a priority and include sex education.

The article “can be interpreted in different ways,” said Vladimir Nasonkin, co-chairman of the Federal Center for Education Legislation. “Different interpretations and commentaries may be taken into consideration when the charter’s provisions are implemented but may not be.”

At the moment, lawmakers are working on a new standard of state-school education in Russia that may include the provisions of the European Social Charter, Nasonkin said.

But experts are skeptical that schools will embrace a European-style approach, complete with contraceptive advice and frank discussion of changes during puberty.

“I think we’ll move in the same direction as other European countries, but our starting point is different, so it will take longer,” Bobrik said, blaming the “outdated system of school education.”

“A good idea can turn into a very mediocre result. I think it could turn into some one-off sessions on sex education,” said Alexandra Kareva, a project coordinator at Project Hope, an NGO that produces sex-education textbooks and trains teachers in Russia.

Sex education faces widespread opposition from religious and conservative groups.

A conservative organization called the Parents’ Committee has petitioned Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill to stop this provision of the European Social Charter from being implemented, calling sex education “a looming evil.”

Lyubov Kachesova, one of the movement’s leaders, told The Moscow Times that parents and members of various organizations had sent letters to the head of the State Duma factions and to two ministries, the Health and Social Development Ministry and the Education and Science Ministry. “Parents didn’t receive a single answer that really answered their questions,” she complained.

Kachesova said campaigners are “practically sure” that sex education lessons will be introduced.

She criticized existing programs, which she said are imported by private Russian organizations from the West. “In Russian, they sound primitive, ridiculous and sometimes downright illegal. When parents find out their content, they experience shock and disgust,” she said, adding that she began protesting against the lessons when her own children were in school.

One of the supporters against the sex-education movement is psychologist Irina Medvedeva. “If it is made law, there will be acts of civil disobedience,” she warned. “We consider that sex education of children is harmful in all senses.”

Sex education “destroys the romantic view of love,” she said. “The feeling of mutual attraction goes cold before children reach adulthood.”

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