Comprehensive Sexuality Education

Comprehensive Sexuality Education : Where things stand and where to from here?


In the wake of the 12 May Sunday Times article on CSE (Comprehensive Sexuality Education) and subsequent outrage, Cause for Justice (CFJ) this week met with the Department of Basic Education (DBE) Directorate for Health Promotion – in a follow-on from two previous meetings – to get the facts, and put to bed speculation and suspicion about what exactly is going on in the halls of government.

31 May 2019
By Ryan Smit, CFJ Executive Director and Legal Counsel




On 12 May 2019, the Sunday Times published an article, “Sex lessons for modern grade 4s” (by Prega Govender). As expected, pandemonium broke out, forcing the Education Department (DBE) to issue a statement to try calm the tempest. The media and social media fall-out was immense, and rightly so – as this is a very serious matter – what the state wants to teach parents’ children about sex and sexuality.

Cause for Justice (CFJ) Executive Director and Legal Counsel, Ryan Smit, had meetings with the DBE Directorate for Health Promotion twice before, regarding the drive for Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) in schools – as part of the curricula (CAPS) of Life Skills / LS (primary school) and Life Orientation / LO (high school) subjects. Previous meetings took place in August 2018 and last month (April 2019) in the context of the DBE’s proposed Draft Learner Pregnancy Policy, which promotes the delivery of CSE as a means to prevent and manage learner pregnancies.

When the story broke on 12 May, CFJ decided to hold back on further commenting on the issue until we had an opportunity to meet with the DBE again. The meeting took place on Monday, 27 May 2019. As a consequence of this meeting, here is what we now know.



Socio-economic context and realities

  • DBE has to navigate the realities of a pluralistic and diverse society with differing levels of parental involvement and presence in the lives of school-going children. They are taking a wide range of steps to cater for children from all social and familial contexts – cognisant that there is not a one-size-fits-all answer to Sexuality Education curriculum content that will be taught in schools, and at the same time knowing that the only thing worse than saying the wrong thing to children about sex and sexuality, is saying nothing at all.
  • South Africa has a unique and diverse social and economic reality, which differs from household to household, accompanied by debilitating social and health ills (such as HIV infection and teenage pregnancies). Governments of developing countries often find themselves pressed between two forces in addressing their nations’ socio-economic realities and its consequences, namely –
  • the international community – with funding – proposing certain solutions; and
  • nowhere else to turn, with the majority of parents not fulfilling their role in adequately training their children on issues of sexual health, sexual behaviour and its consequences.


As a result, the choice of which interventions to implement is many times made even before it has been given proper consideration – in order to address the need, the solutions proposed by those with the funds to implement their solutions, weigh heavily on the overwhelmed governments of developing countries.


Implementing solutions backed by funds, including piloting


  • According to DBE, they have taken care to not merely “copy and paste” UNESCO’s International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education (ITGSE) into South African LS and LO CAPS, but have tried to contextualise it for South African / African values and cultural norms, with a focus on prevention (of sexual debut, increased sexual activity, risky sexual behaviour (e.g. unprotected sex), learner pregnancy, infection with HIV, TB and STDs etc.) and building skills to improve decision-making in relation to sexual health.


  • After the release of the ITGSE by UNESCO in 2009, South Africa undertook a process of reviewing the Life Skills and Life Orientation curricula against these guidelines in 2011. Where gaps were identified, scripted lessons plans were developed and are currently being piloted with the aim of integrating them into the curricula, thus ensuring alignment to international standards. Existing teaching and learning materials are supplied by the DBE to all schools. Training of district officials as master trainers is also done by the DBE, and they in turn train teachers to teach the programme as an integral part of the curriculum. These district officials are subject advisors who provide support on a quarterly basis to educators through supervision meetings on continuous assessment, where the educators submit the work done in the previous quarter. UNESCO and UNFPA have also supported the DBE to train teachers through an online course on CSE. The plan is now to roll out the online course nationally. (UNESCO Report: CSE Scale-up in Practice – Case studies from Eastern and Southern Africa (2017)(“2017 Scale-up Report”), page 59. Available at:


  • The new SLPs are expected to be mandatory. A timetable for their implementation has been developed, and they have been assessed to institutionalize comprehensive sexuality education in schools. To ensure the implementation and rollout of the new SLPs in select areas, USAID is providing technical assistance (through a five-year contract awarded in 2015 to the Education Development Center [EDC], and its partners Health Economics and HIV/AIDS Research Division [HEARD], the Society for Family Health, and Mott McDonald) to support the DBE with in-service educator training activities in targeted provinces and districts to strengthen the DBE’s ability to implement and monitor the new sexuality and HIV- prevention education program. EDC trained LO educators before the start of the second quarter of the 2016 school year, and subsequently piloted the SLPs in intervention schools. The DBE is also revising current policies to promote access to HIV-prevention services in schools, using biomedical, behavioral, social, and structural interventions to reduce transmission and vulnerability to HIV. Moreover, the DBE is planning to roll out comprehensive sexuality education. The first years of program implementation focus on Grades 7 to 9; development and implementation of the curriculum for other grades is in process. (MEASURE Evaluation: Evaluation of a School-Based Sexuality and HIV Prevention Activity in South Africa – Midline Qualitative Report (February 2019), page 13-14. (“2019 Midline Report”) Available at:


  • International agencies are intimately and intricately involved:
    • UNESCO and UNFPA – support the DBE through the implementation of the ESA Commitment activities;
    • United States Agency for International Development (USAID) – provides technical and financial support for the development of scripted lesson plans on sexuality education.

(2017 Scale-up Report, page 60.)


  • We were able to confirm with DBE that parents, as a particular stakeholder group, were NOT involved OR consulted in the development of the new content for Sexuality Education for school grades.
  • The new content is in the form of Scripted Lesson Plans (SLPs), consisting of Educator Guides and Learner Workbooks for every grade – to be delivered as part of LS and LO curricula.
  • DBE has completed SLP’s for Grade 4 – 12 and is currently developing SLPs for Grades R to 3.
  • The DBE has piloted the new content with some schools in 5 provinces, but very little information about the reception of the new content is publicly available.
  • One study that is available (2019 Midline Report) raises concerns about the desirability of certain content items among teachers, parents and even learners.


Some concerning results include:

  • Parents were not familiar with the SLP (new curriculum) content.
  • LO educators said that they were not comfortable teaching the sexuality education part of the LO curriculum.
  • Although SGB and SMT were in favour of the teaching of LO, in general they did not support the LO curriculum, with responses ranging from no support to some support.


Despite these concerns, the authors of the 2019 Midline Reportforge ahead with recommendations to more effectively implement the SLPs, including:

  • Educator training, with a focus to help learners internalise the lesson content and relate it to their own lives;
  • Parent training and involvement, including reviewing the content of the curriculum with parents and discussing myths and misperceptions around sex, HIV, and pregnancy.


The related, but separate textbook writing project

  • From our meeting with DBE on 27 May 2019 we understand that, in order to support the new classroom content, DBE launched an open source textbook writing project – the textbook that will be produced will support the new content (SLP’s) and is not intended to go beyond the carefully crafted grade-specific content.
  • We have further been led to understand that Marlene Wasserman (aka “Dr Eve”) was not involved in the development of the new content / SLP’s at all and was only unofficially involved in giving inputs into the textbook writing project, which is still in the early developmental phase.
  • We noted our concerns regarding Marlene Wasserman to DBE in the Monday meeting – amongst others her commercial interest because of her sex products store and her support of the failed TopTV (StarSat) application and subsequent court battle to air pornography on subscription television in SA (2013 – 2015).


The lacking rationale for providing CSE to children

  • There are no binding domestic or international legal obligations on South Africa to implement or provide CSE in schools or to out-of-school youth.
  • Government is trying to justify the mandatory implementation of CSE in schools with reference to the non-binding ESA Commitment and building support for CSE in its own policy documents, such as the National Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Framework Strategy, 2014 – 2019, DBE National Policy on HIV, STIs and TB, 2017and the proposed Draft DBE Learner Pregnancy Policy, 2018 (amongst others).
  • The latest review of the research on the effectiveness of school-based CSE in countries outside the USA, show that the available research, used by UNESCO to promote CSE, does not support UNESCO’s claim that school-based CSE is effective. In fact, UNESCO’s own evidence indicates that CSE in school settings has shown little success and may be doing more harm than good. (The Institute for Research and Evaluation: Re-Examining the Evidence for Comprehensive Sex Education in Schools – Part Two: Research Findings in Non-U.S. Settings (2018). Available at:


  • In short:
    • There is almost no evidence that school-based CSE is effective at reducing teen pregnancy or the contracting of STDs.
    • There is almost no evidence that school-based CSE increases consistent condom use.
    • There is almost no evidence of school-based CSE significantly increasing teen abstinence.
    • There is no evidence of school-based CSE producing dual-benefit within the same programme: Sustained increase in abstinence and condom use have not been found to exist together.
    • 26% (more than 1 in 4) school-based CSE programmes correlated with negative effects on participants’ sexual health, e.g. increase in sexual initiation, STDs, number of partners, recent sex, paid sex, forced intercourse (rape), or a decrease in condom use.


  • Without a legal obligation to provide CSE in schools, nor evidence to support it from a public policy perspective, it is unclear what is the rationale for its implementation or who is the driving force(s) behind the provision of CSE in South African schools? A guess would be: UNESCO, UNFPA, USAID and / or their formal and informal affiliates and / or the funders behind these international bodies.


Criticism against and concerns about international CSE





  • We don’t know what is in the new content (SLPs: Educator Guides and Learner Workbooks per grade), i.e. what the state wants to teach parents’ children about sex and sexuality.
  • We do not know whether parents and other stakeholders will be allowed or enabled to meaningfully contribute to or influence the content that the state is proposing to teach to their children.
  • We don’t know whether parents or children will be penalised if they choose to sit out one or more of the SLPs and / or choose to provide sex education at home or other non-school setting. Putting it more broadly: We do not know whether the state will respect parental rights in respect of the training and education of their children.
  • We do not know whether provinces, individual schools and / or individual parents will be allowed to teach an alternative curriculum to the state’s sexuality education; or refrain from teaching, alter or replace certain parts of the national curriculum to the extent that they disagree with its contents.
  • In the absence of either legally binding or factual / evidential grounds for the provision of CSE in schools, we do not know what the rationale or justification is for providing CSE or who is driving its implementation in South Africa. Put differently: In the absence of a valid basis or evidence of benefits to society, why is South Africa promoting this? Is someone else perhaps benefiting somehow, even if it isn’t the South African public? Or is it a case of disseminating particular ideological views to South African children by way of a mandatory school curriculum?
  • We don’t know the outcome and reception of the SLPs in all the piloting exercises.



We submit that the best interest of children demands that every effort be made to achieve the following objectives:


  • Obtain clarity about the policy / evidential basis (rationale) for promoting CSE in line with UNESCO’s ITGSE in South African schools and to out-of-school youth, if any exist.


  • DBE must make all completed new content materials / SLPs (Educator Guides and Learner Workbooks) publicly available without delay, to allow parents and other stakeholders the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the new content that is proposed to be taught in the LS and LO curricula from 2020 and make informed decisions in the best interest of their children’s health and well-being.


  • DBE to make full disclosure of:
    • Names of all contributors to the development of the SLPs (Educator Guides and Learner Workbooks) for each Grade (R – 12).
    • The implementation timetable for roll-out of SLPs for all grades, including pilots and full curricular implementation.
    • The outcome of all SLP pilots at schools, including reception of the SLPs in all the piloting exercises.
    • Names of all contributors to the development and writing of the textbook to support the LS / LO curricula on sexuality education.
    • The progress of the textbook writing project, including regular updates.


Adequate Public Participation:

  • DBE should conduct a substantial public participation process with all stakeholders and interested parties to determine whether the public want a national sexuality education curriculum to be provided through schools (and to out-of-school youth).


  • DBE must allow and enable parents and other stakeholders to contribute to or influence the content of the SLPs (new curriculum content) by:
    • Creating adequate public participation opportunities,
    • Giving proper consideration to their inputs and meaningfully engage with them and their inputs, including amending the SLPs where necessary,
    • to ensure that children are not violated by the content or influenced by it in a manner that goes against their own, their family or their community values, beliefs and convictions.


Recognition, Protection and Diversion:

  • Obtain confirmation from DBE that:
    • the state will respect parental rights in respect of the training and education of their children in the area of sexuality, including the right to decide to provide sex education in the home, whether by way of the national curriculum or any other alternative curriculum; and
    • provinces, individual schools and/or individual parents will be allowed to teach an alternative curriculum to the state’s sexuality education; or refrain from teaching, alter or replace certain parts of the national curriculum to the extent that they disagree with its contents on rational grounds.
  • Non-state service providers to actively train parents on how to educate their children regarding sexuality, sexual choices and consequences.
  • Developing sexuality education curricula as alternative to state-sponsored CSE and rolling these out to all South African communities.
  • Parents to train children on character and values-based healthy sexuality, sexual choices, behaviour and consequences.



Stakeholders / interest groups

There are a whole host of stakeholders / interest groups who all bear responsibility to act in the best interest of the children they serve through the schooling system. These include (amongst others):

  • Parents / guardians and caregivers,
  • SGBs,
  • SMTs,
  • teachers and other staff members,
  • sex education providers,
  • sex education curricula authors,
  • parenting training providers,
  • health care providers,
  • providers of materials, products, equipment and services (including media and physical),
  • advocacy groups acting in the best interest of children and for the protection of children,
  • their respective oversight and industry bodies (e.g. FEDSAS, NASGB, ISASA, SADTU, SACE, HPCSA and others), as well as
  • provincial education departments.


Use existing channels of engagement

Both as separate stakeholders / interest groups and as collectives, the above role players can take action to achieve the above objectives.

We encourage each individual stakeholder/interested party or group and representative body to work through existing channels to engage with DBE in respect of the objectives that you agree with or are aligned with.


For those without representation – Contact us

Any stakeholder or party who do not have existing channels to engage with DBE, are welcome and are invited to contact Cause for Justice at, with a request to act on your behalf and represent your interests in this very serious and concerning matter affecting our children.



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