UPDATE on Learner Pregnancy Policy: Meeting with Department regarding CSE – August 2018

Earlier this month, Cause for Justice (CFJ) Executive Director, Ryan Smit, met with officials of the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to engage on concerns regarding the DBE’s Draft National Policy on the Prevention and Management of Learner Pregnancy (the draft Policy).

This meeting followed from CFJ’s written submissions on the draft Policy. CFJ delivered, as part of its submissions, a list of unanswered questions and gaps in the draft Policy to the DBE, without which the public is unable to meaningfully engage with the draft Policy.

MAIN CONCERNS REGARDING THE POLICY

To recap, CFJ is concerned about the draft Policy’s proposed solutions / modus operandi. The draft Policy’s stated goal is:

3 POLICY GOALS
The goal of the Policy on the Prevention and Management of Learner Pregnancy is to reduce the incidence of learner pregnancy  through the provision of quality comprehensive sexuality education and access to adolescent and youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services. It should promote the Constitutional Rights of girls..

The content of the proposed Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) curriculum has not been provided, leaving parents in the dark about what their children will be taught about sex and sexuality at school.

Recent studies indicate that “It is far more likely to see evidence of failure than success in international school-based CSE” and that CSE “may be doing more harm than good”.

Therefore, being able to consider the content of the proposed CSE curriculum is crucial to enable the public to determine whether to support the draft Policy or not.

FEEDBACK ON MEETING WITH THE DBE
Encouraging signs

On the whole, the meeting with the DBE was very encouraging. There was an openness to engage and a willingness to share information to fill in gaps in the background and in the draft Policy on the part of the two DBE officials – the Director of the Health Promotion Directorate, responsible for managing programmes on CSE; and the UNESCO secondee fulfilling the role of Programme Officer in the Directorate.

We were given the assurance that the DBE does not merely take and implement whatever it receives from abroad, i.e. from international agencies, in terms of CSE curricula. The Directorate apparently critically considers content before assimilating and adjusting it for the local South African context and realities at ground level.

The officials also started sharing with us parts of the curricula of CSE. This willingness on the part of the state to draw back the curtain and subject itself to scrutiny is most encouraging and a huge step in the right direction.

Lingering cause for concern

Despite these encouraging signs and the DBE’s commitment to keep us in the loop with all further developments, a few key concerns remain, including:

1. Although the departmental officials currently holding office are alive to the dangers accompanying CSE curricula developed on the international stage, the wording of the draft Policy makes no mention of it and contains no mechanisms to protect against these concerning elements.

The draft Policy wording at this stage is completely open to abuse by parties who may want to use it in a manner inconsistent with parents’ wishes for their children.

CFJ accordingly reiterates that any governmental learner pregnancy policy must recognise that parental rights take precedence, as parents are the primary educators and care givers of their children.

2. It is clear that the main influencer of the draft Policy is UNESCO through the drafters of the Policy and the reliance placed on the UNESCO International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education. The UN General Assembly rejected the controversial definition of CSE used in the Guidance (specifically the broad notion of “sexuality” which is understood to refer to social norms that emphasise sexual autonomy) in favour of a narrower health-centred approach.

3. Indirect influencers include UNAIDS, UNFPA, UNICEF, UN Women and the WHO, most of whom have close ties with International Planned Parenthood Federation – one of the biggest abortion providers in the world.

CFJ submits that schools should not promote abortion to children (as part of so-called “Sexual and Reproductive Health Services”) as a means for managing learner pregnancies.

4. A number of key questions remain unanswered and requests for information outstanding at this stage. The positive rapport built with the Departmental officials gives us confidence that these materials and pieces of information will be provided soon, allowing us and the public at large to meaningfully engage with the draft Policy.

CONCLUSION

While education about healthy sexuality and sexual choices has an important role to play in assisting learners to make choices that are in their best interest, (1) the method, (2) the message (content of the education) and (3) by whom the education is done, are critical questions in formulating a just/equitable policy response to the issue of prevention and management of learner pregnancies.

CFJ supports the DBE (and government) serving learners and acting in their best interest – through the intervention of their parents and legal guardians, e.g. by providing parents and legal guardians with training on matters such as the sexual habits of children, the importance of teaching children about healthy sexuality and sexual choices and its consequences; and allowing parents a first opportunity to educate their children on this value-laden, and socially and culturally significant matter: HEALTHY SEXUALITY.

BY RYAN SMIT, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

For further queries, contact CFJ at:
Email: info@causeforjustice.org
Tel: 083 235 1511

CAUSE FOR JUSTICE

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