Will Chile Lower the Age for Sex Ed to Four Years?

SANTIAGO – Congress opposes the Ministry of Education’s push to lower the age for sex education. Both agree the age should be lowered, but disagree on the age itself. Currently, students receive their first sex ed at age 15.

The debate focuses mainly on the minimum age to start teaching sex education at schools. In a country where sex education starts at age 15, lowering the age should prevent abuse and guarantee responsible sex lives. Education Commission president Camila Rojas, from the Autonomous Left party, and Education Minister Marcela Cubillos from the right-wing Independent Democratic Union (UDI) party, face each other in the debate. 

Rojas recently presented a bill to include sex education at the preschool level (4-5 years old). The proposal was introduced last Thursday and focuses on preventing sexual abuse, sexism, STDs, and teen pregnancy; as well as adjusting sex education from a medical approach to an integral one (sexuality, social interactions, self-care).

It also proposes to introduce mandatory sex education in all pedagogy curricula at universities, and adjust educational plans according to Human Rights standards, as described by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO): i.e., to include sex and social relationship topics, and to use educational approaches that adapt to every student’s cultural situation, age, and needs. 

Cubillos and the Minister of Health Emilio Santelices introduced a competing bill to Congress. They aim to integrate sex education at the 5th grade level (11-12 years old). This project will focus on including STD protection and pregnancy prevention information in the classrooms.

Chilean Sex Ed Today

Currently, Chilean students do not receive any formal sex ed until the first year of high school (14-15 years old). According to the first Article of Law 20418, “every person has the right to receive education, information, and orientation in fertility regulation matters, in a clear, comprehensible, complete and confidential way. … Educational establishments … must include in high school levels a sexual education program which, according to their own principles and values, includes contents that support a responsible sexuality and inform about the authorized contraceptive methods ….”

Defening her bill, Minister Cubillos said in a Mineduc article that “learning about these topics at 14 years old is too late”.

Rojas said something similar to La Tercera newspaper: “Due to the high numbers of STD contagions and sexual child abuse situations, this is a topic that has to be on the table earlier on.”

Also read:

[VIDEO] Chilean youth affected by national HIV epidemic

The Need for Change

One thing both the bills have in common is the recognition of certain problems that need to be solved. The rise of HIV infections, mostly among the youth, is one of them. HIV’s rates have increased dramatically over the last few years in Chile, climbing 96% between 2010 and 2017. 

According to a MINSAL report, 71,000 people are living with HIV in Chile: 4,000 more than 2017. In the same article, health minister Jaime Mañalich says that the ministry wants “this epidemic gone by 2030.” Due to lack of information and the taboo label, Rojas and Cubillos identify this as something an early sex education could reverse.

Another problem is teen pregnancy rates in Chile. Although births to mothers under the age of 19 dropped from 16% to under 8% between 2000 and 2017, teen pregnancy can be a consequence of sexual ignorance, low self-esteem, and poor psychological support—all topics that, according to Rojas, form part of an integral sex education and missing from the current fertility-focused curriculum. “It’s important to talk about these topics [in order] to adopt a responsible attitude towards [sexuality],” Rojas said.


Debating the Age

When presented to other lawmakers, there is still debate about the approach of these topics due to the young ages of students.  According to La Tercera newspaper, in the first discussion about Rojas’s bill on Oct. 8, sub-secretary of preschool education María José Castro emphasized that for early ages, the correct concept is affective education. “[Affective education] refers to the recognition of your body and others’, which is already on the current curriculum,” Castro says, “but education about sexual life … has other age limits.”

Representative Leonidas Romero rejected the proposals, qualifying preschool sex ed as an “aberration.” On the other hand, Representative Jaime Bellolio made a call to get rid of such prejudices, saying that “[this is to] minimize abuse cases to the minimum. Some have said we want to sexualize preschoolers; now, that is an aberration.”

Others raise other points of debate besides age. AIDS Healthcare Foundation coordinator Leonardo Arenas, criticizes Cubillos in a Universidad de Chile Radio report for not addressing sexual education through a view other than the medical one. “She stayed in the health corner, in a law for fertility regulation,” Arenas said. Rosario Olivares, Feminist Teacher Network representative, pointed out the potential of these initiatives to protect children, but also other communities, such as women and LGBTQ citizens: “[These laws can] detect situations of violence directed from outside, that schools can prevent through education.”

Why is a campaign against HIV generating so much controversy in Chile?

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