For now, the authors of the program proceed from the fact that modern children cannot be protected from such topics, which means they need to take upon themselves the authority to discuss them
Last week in Belgium, unknown assailants set fire to 6 schools in the Wallonia region, protesting against the introduction of compulsory sex education lessons for schoolchildren. No one has claimed responsibility for the arson and no suspects have been arrested, but graffiti against the new EVRAS program was found at the crime scenes. Prime Minister De Croo condemned attacks and ordered the body responsible for processing intelligence on “terrorism, extremism and radicalization” to analyze the situation.
EVRAS is a Belgian education program for schoolchildren in the field of emotional and sexual relationships, which is designed for children 5-18 years old and has existed since 2012 in the form of electives. Starting this school year, the Wallonia region has introduced mandatory seminars into the school curriculum for schoolchildren aged 11-12 and 15-16 years (2 hours per year), at which intimate topics will be discussed with teenagers.
The news of such know-how caused a stir on social networks and angered some parents, especially those in the Catholic and Muslim communities. Over the weekend, a rally against EVRAS took place in Brussels, which was attended by more than a thousand people holding signs saying “Hands off the children!” Petition for abolition of sex education in schools collected about 13 thousand signatures. Parents’ chats are indignant, sending messages that children will be shown pornography and persuaded to change their orientation. The country’s popular rapper of African descent, Rohff, addressed his million-strong audience on social networks: “If you refuse to allow your 5-year-old children and nephews to be taught masturbation, taught about sex and pornography at the age of 9, quickly sign this petition!”
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said sex education has been provided in Belgium for half a century and warned the country would not take steps back. “This is not new, it is the basis of sexual health, but also the basis for our children to know about their rights and (physical) integrity,” he added. Other officials tried to refute the rumors. “I would like to urge everyone to calm down and try once again to debunk the lies being spread about the EVRAS system,” said Caroline Désir, Minister of Education for the Wallonia region. “No, the program is not preparing a system of pedophiles. No, she does not plan to force children to change gender. No, the company has no plans to teach children how to have sex.” Authorities also claim that a “fake news campaign” has been launched that plays on the emotions of parents by spreading absurd claims that these lessons will show porn and teach children to masturbate.
The main cause for alarm was the new 350-page EVRAS manual for teachers, which contained controversial recommendations. For example, with children 9-11 years old it is proposed to discuss how to send intimate photos correctly (do this by mutual consent, do not send other people’s photos without permission, understand that this can cause excitement in the recipient, take photos in such a way as not to compromise yourself in case frame leaks). However, there are also more innocuous topics: managing emotions, self-esteem, the role of family and separation from parents.
Faced with this backlash, Caroline Désir demanded that the controversial passages be reformulated. The authors of the program also note that the manual is not a textbook for children, but a cheat sheet for specialists with a list of possible questions that children may have. As the compilers of the “manual” justify, all topics were selected taking into account surveys of schoolchildren and other studies. Thus, a conversation about masturbation is supposed to be discussed with 9-11 year old teenagers, because supposedly it is in this age group that interest in such practices appears. Discussing pornography without showing it, on the contrary, should form a critical attitude among schoolchildren towards this genre.
While the authors of the program proceed from the fact that modern children cannot be protected from such topics, which means they need to take on the authority to discuss them, opponents say that this can lead to sexual promiscuity among teenagers. The initiator of the petition against sex education lessons, child psychologist Sophie Deschenes, explained her position in Le Figaro: “Many of the tips offered there are not suitable for children in the stated age range. In fact, our duty is to protect children from adult attitudes towards sexuality, while the idea of self-determination prevails in the program: the child can ask whatever questions he wants, and adults must answer directly. There are no more restrictions, we can only mechanically respond to children’s curiosity. In my opinion, this is the exact opposite of what education should be.”