Equalities watchdog urges government to update sex education in schools

It’s time to update Hong Kong’s 20-year-old sex education guidelines for schools with a modern, comprehensive curriculum on the subject, says the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC).

The first place to start? The name “sex education” itself, suggests the body, in its recommendation to the Education Bureau (EDB) amid a review of school curriculum.

The EOC says the subject should be retitled as “sexuality education” or even “sexuality and relationship education” to emphasize an expanded scope, beyond what’s been thought of traditionally as sex education — reproductive health, contraception and avoiding teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

In their suggestions released this week, they said, starting at the primary level, schools should adopt a “rights-based” and “gender-focused” dedicated curriculum.

Among content that should be covered, they proposed:

Gender equality — with a focus on power dynamics in relationships, gender stereotypes, gender bias and LGBTI issues —  as well as consent education, sharing sexual images of people, dating violence, victim blaming, online risks and how to seek help for issues such as unprotected sex, sexual assault or unwanted pregnancy.

The EOC stressed that “sexuality education does not promote early sexual activity or any particular sexual orientation” but was vital for helping young people cultivate “positive attitudes about relationships, gender roles and gender equality.”

“Taken together, comprehensive sexuality education should aim at helping young people develop responsible decision-making and respectful behaviour, which in turn, help eliminating sex harassment in the long run,” the authors wrote.

“Therefore, a new balance should be struck between the biological aspect and relationship aspect of sexuality education.”

Critics have long accused the government of dragging its feet on sex education, while research have shown a worrying lack of knowledge among teenagers about topics such as the proper way to use a condom, or whether to use contraception at all.

The authorities’ guidelines on sex education were established in 1997, however they were designed as a reference for schools implementing sex education and “should not be regarded as a curriculum guide”.

Sex education is currently taught as part of the Liberal Studies curriculum at secondary level, and the Moral and Civic Education at primary and secondary level.

But some critics argue that although sex education is part of the curriculum, it is not compulsory.

A positive sign came this week, with Chief Executive Carrie Lam mentioning the issue in her policy speech, noting that for teenagers proper sex education was “particularly important.”

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